CAMAS — More than 20 children ran around at Helen Baller Elementary School on Wednesday morning, soaking in the sun and playing tag, some with armloads of books. It was the first day of the summer Book MoBus for the Camas School District, serving children from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Jennifer Scott, the district’s literacy instructional facilitator and creator of the summer Book MoBus, greeted families and showed them around the outdoor tables and a Kona Ice truck parked near the event. Upbeat music played in the distance.
Scott said she started the Book MoBus to keep kids reading during the summer when the school libraries are closed. The Book MoBus offers reading incentives, such as book bingo, shaved ice for the warm summer day, cookies and even a visit from the Camas-Washougal Fire Department.
“Building community is what families have really appreciated,” Scott said. “This is a passion project of figuring out how we can bring books and our community together during the summer.”
The Book MoBus originated in 2019 with a school district van. But since 2021, the program has used a real district school bus. And with the help of a few local grants, Scott said, the program has been able to fill more student book requests.
The books on the bus have a label on them that reads “Please return to the Camas Book MoBus,” to encourage students to bring the books back, though it is an informal rental system. Scott said the program is still receiving returns from last summer and is relaxed so students and families don’t feel pressured and will continue to rent books out. Because the Book MoBus is partnered with the Camas Public Library, families can return them to either location.
“We just try to have them feel inspired to come back,” Scott said. “Keep them reading. That’s the most important piece.”
Shiny new books lined the inside of the bus, organized in bins by topics and series, such as “Origami Yoda” or “Fun Fiction.” Incoming Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone held the book “Dinosaurs Love Underpants,” his own child’s favorite, to read to students later that day.
Anzalone said the Book MoBus reminded him of his school’s bookmobile in Brooklyn, N.Y., which also rented books to students. He said he appreciates the innovation of the Book MoBus and feels that accessibility to books during the summer is important.
“I think it’s perfect for the size of our community, to where I think it’s going to provide access to children and families that may not have access,” Anzalone said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get to the library. Sometimes parents are working. Sometimes the kids have to be at home during the day to watch their siblings or family members. And so I think this is a great way to bring the books to the kids rather than the kids going to the books.”
Ada Dalton, an 8-year-old student at the event, said she also used the Book MoBus last year. She picked out “The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors” and a more informative book about baseball, Ada’s favorite sport.
“I like tricky words,” Ada said. “And I’ve just gotten into harder chapter books.”
Parents are also grateful for the program. Chelsea Curley, a mother of three, said she loves the program events that the Book MoBus puts on while things slow down in the summer.
“We were really impressed with the variety and amount of books they have this year,” Curley said. “And anything to promote literacy I love.”