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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Recently:

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:

The Daily Minute: 12.9.22
In which, having just arrived in Texas, we plan to spend the night in Jasper County.

#busloadofbooks
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Robbi got this text from Erica Bridwell (known to friends and colleagues as “B”), the first-grade teacher who hosted Jasper during Tuesday’s visit to North Pike Elementary School in Summit, Mississippi. We signed a copy of Everywhere, Wonder for B, and Robbi had written in the dedication to “keep fighting the good fight.”
 
It’s a difficult time to be a teacher, especially at a school with limited resources and especially when serving kids who bring additional challenges to school. Educators need a boost every bit as much as their students do.
 
We’re sharing this to show that the tour is also for them, and maybe even more so. 
 
“We miss y’all! It felt like a part of us left when y’all did. Y’all have NO IDEA the impact you’re making not only on kids, but adults too! I haven’t had the easiest school year so far. I have felt defeated, frustrated, and overwhelmed. My connection with my students has felt faint and really nonexistent… I’ve struggled to find ways to motivate them, encourage them more… then y’all come along and somehow it has put fire back into me. Your words have made me reflect since I read them… “keep fighting the good fight…” it was powerful. I had that “full moon feeling” that feeling of how much I love what I do. I thought of what it means to me and what those kids mean to me. I remembered why God chose me to do this. Your kind words lifted me up. So thank you. Thank y’all. What y’all are doing is amazing! Safe travels! I’ll be following!”
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The Daily Minute: 12.8.22
In which we bask in the sweet Louisiana night and brace ourselves for the enormity of Texas.

#busloadofbooks
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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!