Making books. Rooting for underdogs.
Driving a colorful bus.

Hello!

We are Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr, husband/ wife, author/illustrator creators of middle grade and picture books—here to tell you about our literacy access initiative, the Busload of Books.

We and our four kids spent the 2022-2023 school year traveling the country in a school bus/tiny home—visiting Title I schools in all 50 states (plus DC), doing presentations on creativity and collaboration, and giving away 25,000 hardcover books to students and teachers from underserved communities.

Partnerships with First Book and Build-A-Bear Foundation expanded the tour’s reach to 150,000 books and 25,000 “reading buddy” teddy bears distributed to Title I communities across the country.

Along the way we partnered with Washington College to facilitate the first-ever, large-scale research study of how author/illustrator visits impact elementary student attitudes about reading, writing, and drawing.

The Bus Rolls On!

We’re back home in Maryland now, making books and showering more frequently, but our Busload work continues. Throughout the 2024-2025 school year, we’ll visit twelve Title I schools across the country—six in-person and six virtually. Every school will receive two free assemblies (one for preK-2 and another for 3-5) and a free book for every student and teacher.

The books will be sourced and shipped by our friends at First Book and funded by the excellent folks at Build-A-Bear Foundation.

We’re excited to continue our research partnership with Washington College, broadening the data set, furthering its potential to inform policy, shape curriculum, and increase funding for future literacy programming.

Our Colorful, Rolling Billboard for Literacy

Our 24-foot Thomas school bus (home for our year on the road) comes with us to every in-person Title I school visit. After each assembly, kids come out to see the bus, take class photos, and meet our dogs.

Inside of bus showing bench seats and kitchenette
Inside of bus showing bench seats and kitchenette

Close to Home

We’ve launched a multi-year partnership with our local Kent County Schools and the education department at Washington College. Over the next six years, we’ll visit the three county elementary schools in rotation—so that every kid in the county gets two author visits and two books from us during their elementary years.

The Busload of Books research team will collect data on these visits, assessing the impact of multiple school visits and testing a variety of literacy interventions.

Busload of Books Research Project

We’re partnering with the departments of education and sociology at Washington College to conduct the first-ever, large-scale study of how author/illustrator visits impact attitudes about literacy and creativity among elementary school students. The resulting data will fill a critical gap in the research on this topic—and could provide powerful tools for school administrators and teachers trying to secure funding and priority for literacy programming.

We’re partnering with a national nonprofit, a leading liberal arts college, a beloved local arts organization, and our generous publisher.

FIRST BOOK

helps us identify the schools we visit—and works with our publishers to print and get books to Title I students and teachers.

WASHINGTON COLLEGE

is using data we collect to analyze the impact of author/illustrator visits on attitudes regarding reading, writing, and drawing.

BUILD-A-BEAR
FOUNDATION

is generously funding a free book for every student and teacher at every school we visit.

KENT CULTURAL ALLIANCE

makes our work possible by accepting tax-deductible donations on our behalf.

Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr are the author and illustrator of the Cookie Chronicles series, The Real McCoys trilogy, the forthcoming Life on the Moon and the picture books Sunrise Summer, Babies Ruin Everything, and Everywhere, Wonder. When not advocating for educational equity, giving talks on creativity, or commercial salmon fishing in Alaska, they live with their four kids and two dogs in the hayloft of an old barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Read more about us
in
Forbes!

MATTHEW

Author, Dad,
Tundra Nanny

ROBBI

Illustrator, Mom,
Fisherwoman

ALDEN (16)

Actor, Artist, Entrepreneur

KATO (14)

Athlete, Gamer,
Engineer

AUGUST (12)

All-star Hugger,
Magical Being

JASPER (7)

Shouter, Jester,
Autocrat

DUMBLES (3)

Snuffler, Mooch,
Grumpy Old Man

GOJI (1)

Alien Fur Bug

SELECT MEDIA

THE DREW BARRYMORE SHOW

Live appearance from McElwain Elementary in Denver, Colorado (as part of the Busload of Books Tour)

FORBES

NYT bestselling author MeiMei Fox on the Busload of Books Tour. Read it here.

WASHINGTON POST 2019

Four-page profile of our lives as creators (cover story of magazine insert). Click here to read.

PEOPLE MAGAZINE

Print and online feature in People’s Smile section.

WASHINGTON POST 2021

Feature on the launch of The Cookie of Perfection and the Busload of Books Tour here.

RURALITE MAGAZINE

Cover story about the Busload of Books Tour. Read it here.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS

A conversation about how illustration can be a form of authorship—and a tool for increasing representation in kid lit. Click here to read.

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

An interview with fellow author Betsy Bird—about our creative process and the Busload of Books Tour. Click here to read.

RELUCTANT READER BOOKS

Our favorite-ever review of The Cookie Chronicles—and why these books are a good match for readers trying to find their footing. Read it here.

NEW YORK TIMES

An interview with the ArtsBeats blog about our indie press Idiots’Books. Read it here.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

The official book-world announcement of the Busload of Books Tour is here.

SELECT PODCASTS

HELLO MONDAY

We join LinkedIn’s Jessi Hempel for a conversation about leaving our day jobs to make books and kids. Listen here.

END BOOK DESERTS

We talk with teacher, scholar, author, and literacy advocate Molly Ness about the Busload of Books Tour here.

THE AUTONOMOUS CREATIVE PODCAST

Our conversation with comic artist Jessica Abel about risk, reward, and making your own luck can be found here.

THE AUTONOMOUS CREATIVE - with video!

Our conversation with comic artist Jessica Abel about risk, reward, and making your own luck. The crowdcast can be found here.

The latest on Instagram:

The Daily Minute: 6.18.24
In which Robbi reports from a rainforest near Anchorage.
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And they’re off!
 
Robbi and the kids (the dogs) left home early afternoon yesterday. They flew to Seattle last night and caught an overnight flight to Anchorage, where they landed just after midnight Alaska time. To kill time during their 12-hour layover, they’re going to rent a car and drive down the Turnagain Arm to Portage. It’s a gorgeous stretch of road along the water.
 
Later today, they’ll catch a flight to King Salmon, a small tundra town which is the jumping-off point for many sport fishing adventures—and the place where the fishermen in our district catch the bush planes that take them to their various fishing camps.  
 
The whole trip will take about 36 hours, at which point Robbi and the kids will land on the beach and be greeted by Robbi’s brother in a pickup truck. They’ll drive to our compound, take the plywood off the windows, head to the spring to get water, hook up the solar panel, and then start setting up our fishing lines.
 
It’s so much work to get started every year, but they’ll be up and running by the time I reach the tundra late next Monday evening. It’s possible I’ll jump off the plane and straight into my waders. Once the fishing starts, it waits for no one.
 
PS - This illustration is from our picture book Sunrise Summer, which tells the story of Alden’s first season as a member of the fishing crew. It’s a great way to get a glimpse into our lives in Alaska.
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The Daily Minute: 6.17.24
In which we tape up the coolers, and Robbi’s hair proves tundra-ready.
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The Daily Minute: 6.16.24
In which Robbi leaves for Alaska tomorrow and the dogs are running free.
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The Daily Minute: 6.15.24
In which we are accused of hideous crimes and tossed into the depths of outer space.
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Whoever you are, take your seat on the bus!

Our adventure is your adventure. Our country is your country, too. Follow along with us!