Books on the Bus Keeps Kids Reading
Summer’s nearly here and so are the summer book bags provided by Books on the Bus, a program that aims to give children the gift of a passion for reading. All RSU1 students in pre-K to 2 nd and 3 rd graders at Phippsburg and Fisher Mitchell will go home with a book bag. Each book bag contains two new books and a variety of fun items like stickers, activity books, Play-Doh, and crayons.
“Last year we put together 200 book bags that parents could sign up for,” says Books on the Bus Founder Ritchie. “This year I was able to deliver 460 book bags.”
Ritchie started building and delivering book bags during the pandemic when children no longer
had access to the books that had been stocked on school buses and could no longer borrow
books or visit the library. The effort started simply: collecting new books and putting them into
large storage bags for distribution. Its success encouraged Ritchie to continue beyond COVID to make it an annual end-of-school-year effort.
“This year we got lucky,” Ritchie says. “We got a large book donation from the Book Fairy
Pantry project in Portland and were able to include those books in our summer reading bags.”
Books on the Bus, Ritchie’s original project, started four years ago with a grant from the
Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation and some smaller, local grants. Ritchie, a college English
instructor, got the idea, she says, when she had her own children and access to children’s
books became a topic of interest.
“Luckily, my kids have lots of books, but many kids don’t. Having access to books is important,
but book ownership also matters. It is key to helping kids develop a lifelong love of reading.”
Ritchie partnered with the Patten Free Library to stock books in special seat pockets on school
buses. Children could choose books to read on the way to and from school but also keep the
books to bring home. Books on the Bus also began stocking gently used books they collect at
the YMCA Book Nook, the Little Free Library at Fisher Mitchell, and have passed out books at
Dike Newell School.
“Due to COVID-related sanitization methods, we have been unable to have books on buses for
the past couple of years,” she says, “but I’m hoping to get back to it in the fall.”
The effort it takes to get all of this done as well as publish updates to the Books on the Bus
Facebook page and its Amazon wish list falls mostly to Ritchie herself. This is in addition to
work she does outside of Books on the Bus, organizing the Bath Book Bash, an annual
children’s book festival at Library Park, and raising her two children, aged 12 and 8. One way
she has managed is by making her work a family affair.
“I’m fortunate that my husband has an office space I can use where I can store books and make
the bags,” she says. “I ask my children for their opinion on the books I choose, especially my
daughter. They can tell me whether a book is something they think kids will like.”
The community does pitch in, too, with donations they make through Amazon of books and
summer book bag items like Play-Doh, crayons, and activity books.
“The dream for me,” she says, “would be to have enough time and resources to be able to send
home a book bag for any kid in RSU1 who wants one.”