The Grant That Started It All
by Matthew
October 22, 2021

Here’s the story of the act of generosity that made the Busload of Books tour possible.

One afternoon a few years ago, my phone rang out of the blue. It was our friend DJ calling with an offer that would change our lives. He and his wife Devika wanted to give us a no-strings-attached grant we could use however we wanted, “to do something awesome.”

While we thought about how best to use the money, we thought about DJ and Devika, who have devoted their lives to making the world better.

DJ served as Chief Data Scientist for the Obama administration, bringing a data-centric approach to US policy. He played a key role in steering California’s response to the Covid crisis. And now he’s working to rethink the future of health care.

Devika helped start an organization that fosters the professional success of Southeast Asian women. She promotes female founders and funders as an advisory board member for All Raise. And she’s the Digital Ambassador for a nonprofit that works to promote leadership and civility.

DJ once handed me a sticker that said Move Purposefully and Fix Things. That’s what he and Devika do every day.They’re two of the most inspiring people we’ve ever met. Which is why we wanted to use their grant to do something big. Because the grant itself was big: $30,000. It was like we’d won the lottery.

That’s when we thought of the Busload of Books tour. It felt big. But maybe too big? By the time we figured out the budget, we realized $30K was only a fraction of what we’d need to fulfill our mission.

It’s not cheap to buy a bus and convert it into a tiny home. It takes a lot of fuel to visit every state. It takes many dollars to purchase 25,000 books. But as we shared our idea with other friends, we were met with continual waves of generosity.

A handful of other major donors stepped forward to help make our dream a reality. And over the past few days, hundreds of other people have pledged to join our adventure, making donations that are adding up to a whole lot of books.

From poverty to funding shortfalls to the trauma of Covid and its aftermath, the challenges facing our nation’s public schools are obviously way too big for the bus tour to fix.

But maybe we can raise some awareness, get people involved, tell the stories of the heroic educators working hard against all odds on behalf of deserving kids—and give away some books.

Here’s to DJ and Devika for trusting us to do something purposeful with this grant.

Here’s to the opportunities for bigger dreaming that become possible when resources appear.

If you have a few spare bucks to buy a few books, we’ll do our best to turn them into smiles.

To learn more or contribute:



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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The Daily Minute: 6.23.24
As Matthew packs for Alaska, he needs your help deciding between protein and joy.

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The Daily Minute: 6.22.24
In which garlic is needed, Goji is cold, and we are grateful to the librarians and students of Japan.

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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!