In Which We Acquire Corn Socks, Meet the Mayor, and Make Five Hundred New Friends
On Monday, we visited L.B. Williams Elementary School in Mitchell, South Dakota.
Among all the schools in South Dakota, we chose L.B. Williams, in no small part because of the graciousness of our host, Deb Bartscher. At the end of a compelling essay about what our visit would mean to her community, she ended with this, “Thanks for providing this opportunity to whatever school is chosen in South Dakota.
”That generosity of spirit was clear throughout our visit. Deb was waiting with a group of kids and a huge banner to welcome us when we arrived.
Also there to greet us was Principal Becky Roth, who ushered us inside for a special treat: local mural artist (and L.B. Williams parent) Stan Sherwood had painted cafeteria columns to look like the spines of our books.
These are just small examples of how prepared they were. The students had read another book before we came—“The Energy Bus,” a bus-themed book about positivity. The community has been tracking our progress on a map. Bus-themed art lined the hallways.
Deb and Becky made the most of our visit, inviting education professors and education students from local Dakota Wesleyan University. A reporter from the local paper came to talk with us. And the district superintendent. And even…the mayor!
We could not have felt more welcome. The two students in charge of student government presented us with a basket of treasures: corn socks, corn balls, corn magnets, and personalized bookmarks made by Deb.
Upon learning Jasper would be joining her class for the day, his teacher made a desk for him—with his own name plate.
After our second assembly, one young man asked me for a hug, which I happily gave. Afterward, he gave me a smile and the best compliment I’ve ever received. “Somehow you inspired me.” I gave him another hug for good measure.
Eventually, we had to leave. It’s the worst part of these visits. But we’re glad to know part of us will remain. Not just on the cafeteria walls—but in the hearts and minds of the students and teachers.
A mom wrote us that night saying her reading-averse first grader had eagerly read to her from his copy of Everywhere, Wonder on the way home from school that day.
That’s why we’re doing this, friends. That, and the corn socks, of course.
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The Busload of Books Tour is a yearlong 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 are spending 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.
Along the way, we’ll be conducting a major research project, making a picture book about America, and inviting our followers to join us on a yearlong exploration of our country’s unsung wonders and off-the-beaten-path communities.