How We Got the Idea for the Tour
by Matthew
October 21, 2021

People have been asking how we got the idea for the Busload of Books tour. Here’s some background.

When The Real McCoys came out a few years ago, Robbi and I started getting invited to do author visits at elementary schools. It was the best! We’d do assemblies and talk about our books. They’d even pay us, which was great.

But it’s also the problem.

In order to bring in authors, schools need extra funds. But many public schools are struggling to even pay their teachers. Visiting authors—and all the benefits they bring to a community—are an unimaginable luxury.
The schools inviting us to visit were either privates or well-resourced publics. We started to wonder about the kids we weren’t reaching.

The problem was clarified on a trip to New Haven. We spent a few days as authors in residence at the Foote School l. We gave assemblies, visited classrooms, and had lunch with a group of aspiring writers and artists.

The folks at Foote arranged for us to do an assembly at a nearby public school—and even bought books for us to give the kids we’d be presenting to. The energy was electric. The kids had never met an author or illustrator, and they treated us like rock stars. Which was good for our self-esteem—but clearly also very good for theirs. Because “rock stars” had come to their school. Because we had a fun discussion about creativity and collaboration. Because we’d made them laugh. Because they were getting free books. Most of them didn’t own any

(To that point: The ratio of kids to books in low-income neighborhoods is 300:1.)

The school had a library, but not a librarian. A few dedicated volunteers and part-time educators had tried to keep the library open and circulating books for the kids, but due to limited resources, it was proving impossible. One example: students had to bring their own toilet paper from home.

When we handed out free copies of The Real McCoys, the kids lit up with excitement. The books weren’t just books. They were a gift, a tangible slice of possibility. As they lined up to leave, they were already reading, pointing to illustrations, cracking each other up, and talking about making comics together.

One little girl wrapped her arms around Robbi and begged her not to leave. She wouldn’t let go. But eventually, she had to.

It was the best and worst moment of that trip. And it’s a touchstone as we think about tour and why it feels so necessary.

To learn more about our adventure and contribute if you can:
www.busloadofbooks.com

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The Busload of Books Tour is a year-long project to promote literacy and raise awareness of the challenges facing our nation’s public schools.

Author/illustrator duo Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (that’s us) and our four kids will spend the 2022-2023 school year traveling the country in a school bus/tiny home, visiting Title I schools in all 50 states (plus DC), and giving away 25,000 hardcover books to students and teachers from underserved communities.

As we travel, we will be blogging, vlogging and posting frequently to social media. All of our content will be appropriate for bringing families and students along on our ultimate road trip.

The latest on Instagram:

At BWI, waiting to board the first of four flights. The mail has been held. The coolers are packed. I’m ready for another summer in Alaska.

Looking forward to smelling the tundra, drinking from the spring, looking for agates, picking fish, baking cakes, and seeing the Bristol Bay sunrise.

But mostly looking forward to seeing my crew. Apparently, the fishing is already underway. When I finally get to Coffee Point, I’ll hop out of the bush plane and into my waders.

So long for now. Will be back before you know it with more photos and stories to share.
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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!