Books in a Bus a perfect pairing of owner’s love of reading and Volkswagons
A fidgety, exuberant buzz runs through the classroom as the afternoon kicks off at Gig Harbor Co-operative Preschool. There’s a special visitor today. She’s tan, wears four wheels and lots of colorful stickers, and she’s too big to fit inside the classroom. It’s Connie’s Books in a Bus.
Accompanied by GHCP teacher Nadine Mart, small groups of children walk (and sometimes run) with a hurried determination as they make their way to the 1968 Volkswagon Westfalia bus stationed just outside the classroom in the Masonic Lodge parking area on Crescent Valley Drive.
They know the drill. Find a book, any book, it’s your choice, and it’s free. Don’t forget to pick out a stuffie, the perfect reading buddy. If you’re not sure what to pick, no worries, there’s help.
Retired educator Connie Brown spent 20 years teaching preschool. She’s read a book or two, and can gently assist even the most discriminating reader. The books about dinosaurs, trucks, and tractors are popular, Brown said. Many of the girls like “a lot of sparkly, Fancy Nancy” selections.
A shared love of VWs
Brown began Books in a Bus in 2018, but her love for Volkswagens developed when she and her husband grew up in Southern California. A VW bug was the first car for both Browns.
“Mine was a ’63 bug, cream-colored,” she said, and after that was the VW square-backed station wagon. Her husband would drive his ’65 Beetle to Huntington Beach for surfing adventures.
Now living in Washington state for more than four decades, aside from a few-year hiatus in New Mexico, the couple own five Volkswagens: a ’68 Westfalia (the Book Bus), a ’67 Bug, a ’73 Thing, ’84 Rabbit GTI, and a ’68 Karmann Ghia, which they use for regional drag racing.
The idea to create a Volkswagen filled with free books just came to Brown one day. “I said to my husband, wouldn’t it be cool if we had a VW bus that would be a traveling library?”
As the community slowly began to learn about Brown and her bus of books, the Westfalia began to pop up at community events: the Narrows Car Show, Donkey Creek Chum Festival at Harbor History Museum, the Celebration of Learning at Discovery Elementary School, the Gig Harbor Lighted Car Parade.
When the pandemic hit, like the rest of the world, Brown pivoted. “That’s when I started to fill the Free Libraries.” She explained, “It takes 100 books a week.”
Books in a Bus also donated and installed a new Little Free Library in their Gig Harbor neighborhood.
The Books in a Bus are supplied by donations from various community sources, ranging from social media to the local food bank. “And I do porch pickups. Last week I did 6 in one day,” said Brown. “I go through them (books) pretty fast.” Books in a Bus has also partnered with Food Backpacks 4 Kids.
“I think just spreading the love for early literacy, it’s really important to get kids interested.” Brown said it doesn’t matter so much what kids read, just that they read. Her advice is, “Let them read what they’re interested in.”
With early readers, Brown suggests observing the illustrations and encouraging your child to predict what might happen next. “It teaches them to be a critical thinker,” she said.
Books in a Bus has also expanded its demographic after recognizing that older kids like picking out a book to take home too. Brown curates the book selection based on the audience she visits.
Popular with the younger set
The chatter during Gig Harbor Co-op’s Preschool snack time reveals a general thumbs-up review for the Books in a Bus.
“It was so cool,” said 4-year-old Clarice. “Theo gave me one of his books. I love the book bus.”
Kylie, 4 1/2, agrees, “It’s fun on the book bus. It was really cool because I got to pick a stuffed animal.”
Next to the VW Westfalia, the sign reads, “Spreading early literacy one book at a time.”
Books in a Bus continues to accept book donations and event requests.
To donate books, email Connie Brown at [email protected]
For more information, see the Books in a Bus Facebook page.