When Tracy Musser was growing up, she didn’t like to read and was horrified when asked to read aloud in school.
Now an avid reader with two children of her own, Musser doesn’t want other youngsters to experience the difficulties she endured. So every day, she gives students riding bus No. 274 a choice of books to read, both during the bus ride and in their leisure time at home.
Musser, who drives No. 274 for Penn Manor, has transformed the bus into a library with bins capable of carrying up to 200 books. She loans them to Central Manor students in kindergarten through grade six, no questions asked. Nearly three-quarters of the 60 youngsters who ride her bus participate, and the program has been so successful, Musser is hoping to expand it to all Penn Manor students.
Musser started the lending library in the fall, inspired by Central Manor’s “Comet Cash” program, which rewards students for doing good things in school. She thought: Why not reward kids for reading books on their own?
“In school, kids often are told what to read, and they may not like the subject,” Musser said. “If I can get them to try out a book that they want to read, that interests them, that’s great.”
The removable book bins are secured under the front two seats of the school bus. Kids can only look through them before or after the bus run, and no one may leave his or her seat when the bus is moving.
The book distribution follows a strict schedule, with two grades each day picking out or returning titles. Reading the books “should not interfere whatsoever with their schoolwork, including any assigned reading,” Musser tells the students. She wants them to read strictly for pleasure, after their homework is done.
Musser gets book recommendations from Central Manor library aide Teresa Reisinger and the students themselves, who give her book lists. She buys used paperbacks at thrift stores for as little as a quarter apiece, but the newer, more popular titles are harder to come by. They can cost $7 to $15 or more.
Books are loaned to students on the honor system, and so far, Musser had no losses.
Central Manor fifth-grader Brooklynn Ayala is a frequent book borrower and particularly enjoys the “Dog Man” and “Babysitter Chronicles” series of books.
“I like that it gives us something to read while we’re on the bus if we don’t have anything to do and it gives us more opportunities to read because you can’t always get the books you want from the library,” Brooklynn said.
Another fifth-grader, Aubrey Wroten, said one of her favorites is “Ghost,” a graphic novel she discovered in the Bus 274 library. “I get to read a lot, and it’s fun,” she said. “And that’s why I like the program.”
Musser is always on the lookout for new titles.
“I have kids asking me all the time if they can get new books,” she said. “The enthusiasm of these kids, especially when I’ve purchased new titles, is just amazing.”
But the main reason she provides the books, Musser says, is to get children hooked on reading.
“As a kid, I really struggled with reading, and I didn’t want to read aloud. I noticed some kids on my bus having problems in school, and I thought this would help,” she said. “If this gets one child to not be afraid to read, whether silently or aloud, I’m doing my job.”
Musser has established a Facebook page, “PM Bus Library” for the project. She also can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.