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

HELLO, WONDERFUL TITLE I EDUCATOR!

First of all, thank you for what you do. Thank you for fighting the good fight. We applaud and appreciate you.

Second, here’s a bit more about our Busload of Books plans for the 2024-2025 school year—and what it would mean to host us for a visit to your school.

If you don’t like watching videos or want more details, here are some commonly asked questions and answers:

If you have curiosities beyond what’s listed here, feel free to shoot us an email.

What is the Busload of Books?

The Busload of Books is our project to bring books and author visits to Title I elementary schools all over the country—while spreading awareness of the challenges facing Title I communities.

We spent the 2022-2023 school year living in a bus, visiting one Title I school in each state, doing free assemblies and giving a free book to every student and teacher.

Moving forward, we’ll serve twelve Title I schools each year—visiting six in person with our bus and six virtually to connect with communities far from our Maryland home. All twelve schools will get two assemblies and a book for every student and teacher.

Why are you two doing this?

We both went to Title I schools. Our kids go to Title I schools. We see how their teachers show up every day and rise to the challenge of serving a community challenged by poverty.

We constantly get asked to do school visits, but almost never by Title I schools. We know how much an author/illustrator visit can bring to a community—excitement, laughter, creative spark, collective joy—and we want that opportunity to be available to students and teachers from every background.

What does a visit from Robbi and Matthew look like?

All visits (virtual and in-person) will include:

  •  A personalized video in which we introduce ourselves, share our books, and let the kids know when we’re coming.
  • Optional pre-visit drawing tutorials and exercises related to our books and assemblies
  • A free book for every student and teacher at your school (our picture book Everywhere, Wonder for preK-2 and Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom for grades 3-5/6)
  • Two, hour-long assemblies (one for preK-2 on our picture book Everywhere, Wonder and another for 3-5/6 on our middle grade series The Cookie Chronicles).
  • A small group session/lunch with 8-10 students of your choosing.

In-person visits also feature trips out to see our bus, meet our dogs, and take photos.

What books do our students get?

PreK-1st grade students and teachers will get a copy of Everywhere, Wonder (Macmillan), a book about noticing and appreciating the world’s wonders—both grand and ordinary.

In our presentation for this age group, we explain how we work together as author and illustrator to imagine and create a picture book—while emphasizing themes of observation, discovery, and storytelling.

The 2nd-6th graders and their teachers will receive our densely illustrated middle-grade novel Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom (Random House), a book about a literal-minded boy who misunderstands the meaning of a fortune cookie and thinks he has just one day to live. It’s a book about figuring out what’s most important and living life to its fullest.

In the related presentation, we describe our creative process and the wonderful weirdness of language—using proverbs as a framework for sharing empowering ideas and encouraging creative exploration.

Why are you giving away your own books?

Every student and teacher at every school we visit will receive a copy of a book that Matthew wrote and Robbi illustrated. Part of the magic of these visits is kids getting a chance to see that authors and illustrators are just regular people. Which helps kids realize they can write and draw and tell their own stories, too. Getting a book created by someone they met creates a personal connection that makes it far more likely the kid will actually read it.

What’s involved with hosting a visit from Robbi and Matthew?

We hope to provide an exciting, fun, inspiring, and memorable day for your community. Here are a few things you’ll need to do before we get there.

  • Working with us to pick a date for the visit
  • Identifying a space for our assemblies (in-person visits) or figuring out the tech setup to broadcast our visit throughout your school (virtual visits)
  • Arranging projector, screen, and two microphones for our presentations (in-person visits only)
  • Overseeing the selection of 8-10 students to meet with us for a small group discussion
  • Distributing free books and related materials to teachers and students in advance of our visit
  • Securing permission from your school and/or district to participate in the research
  • Sending home either opt-in or opt-out research participation forms to parents
  • Coordinating with your school’s teachers to administer the research surveys

We will provide more detail and guidance about all of the above if your school is selected.

If my school is selected, do we get to choose if our visit is in-person or virtual?

Unfortunately, not. The decision will depend on which schools apply and where they’re located. We’ll do in-person visits to schools we can reasonably drive to (we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland) and will do virtual visits to farther away schools. There’s a place on the application form to let us know if you’re only interested in a specific type of visit.

When will we find out if we’re selected?

It depends how many applications we get! But our hope is to notify schools by mid-April so we can get started with the planning.

What’s this about a research project?

For the past few years, we’ve been partnering with the education and sociology departments at Washington College on a massive, first-of-its kind research project to measure the impact of author/illustrator visits on elementary student attitudes about reading, writing, and drawing.

Over the course of our yearlong Busload of Books Tour in 2022-2023, the research team collected 11,000 surveys from more than 5,000 students and teachers—and the results were incredibly exciting. Across all age groups and all three categories—reading, writing, and drawing—there was a statistically significant “assembly affect”, meaning bumps in engagement and interest in the wake of our visit.

Busload of Books is just the two of us (with a lot of help from our friends!). As much as we were able to accomplish on the tour—bringing free assemblies, books, and reading buddies to 25,000 kids in all 50 states—there are 47,000 more Title I schools in this country we haven’t yet visited.

The best way to dramatically expand the impact of our efforts moving forward is to continue our work with Washington College, collecting data that can be used to shape curriculum, strengthen grant proposals, and secure literacy programming for Title I communities.

As we begin the next phase of Busload of Books work, we’d love for as many schools as possible to participate in ongoing research—to expand the data set and broaden the impact. It’s not a requirement for being selected, but it is a factor we’ll be taking into consideration.

For you, facilitating the research would mean:

  1. Securing permission from your district and/or school
  2. Distributing permission forms to parents (either opt-in or opt-out)
  3. Working with your faculty to administer three surveys:
    1. On the day before we visit
    2. A second directly following our visit
    3. A third one month after our visit

Who are you, anyway?

We (Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr) are a husband/wife, author/illustrator duo who have been making books together for nearly two decades. We have four kids (16, 14, 12, and 7), a grumpy old snuffler named Dumbles and an alien fur bug named Goji.

We spent a decade running two small presses and self-publishing more than 70 illustrated picture books for children and adults.

Over the past eight years, we’ve made books with Random House, Macmillan, Little Brown, and Chronicle. Our commercial titles include the critically acclaimed Cookie Chronicles middle-grade series, The Real McCoys trilogy (also middle grade), and the picture books Sunrise Summer, Babies Ruin Everything, and Everywhere, Wonder.

Three of our books have received starred reviews, ten have been selected by the Junior Library Guild, three have been selected by Amazon editors, and one has been honored as an ALA “notable” book.

But what makes us proudest is being told by many librarians, teachers, and parents that our combination of accessible, humorous prose and immersive, exuberant illustrations creates a welcoming and comfortable space for beginning and hesitant readers to find their footing and discover the pleasures (and benefits) of reading.

When not advocating for local schools, giving talks on creative entrepreneurship, or running a summer salmon fishing operation on the Alaskan tundra, we live in an old barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland—two blocks from the house where Robbi grew up.

We’ve been at it for almost two decades now but feel like we’re just getting started.

What are you still wondering? What did we miss?

Let us know HERE!

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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!