Neither rain nor snow nor sleet would keep the bright blue bus from reaching its final destination on this blustery day.
After rolling through six towns in five days, the Connecticut Education Foundation’s (CEF) 2018 Read Across America Bus Tour made its last stop this morning at Plainfield Memorial School, where—in spite of wet and windy weather—eight fourth-grade classes were treated to guest readers, bookmark crafts, a new book of their choice to take home, and of course, time on board the magical blue bus. To add to the cozy feeling, today was pajama day at Plainfield Memorial School, and both teachers and students—in fuzzy slippers and onesies—took full advantage.
Decorated with characters from popular Dr. Seuss books and outfitted with bookshelves, benches, carpeting, and thousands of books donated by CEF, the bus has made stops in the northeastern Connecticut towns of Putnam, Sterling, Brooklyn, Killingly, Thompson, and Plainfield.
Sponsored by CEF, the nonprofit arm of the Connecticut Education Association, the weeklong Reading Bus Tour included guest readers, costumed characters, literacy and craft activities, and new books for nearly 1,000 students.
“There is so much excitement among students this morning about the Reading Bus,” said Plainfield Education Association President Janet Piezzo. “It brings literature right into their environment in a way that makes it their own and makes it fun. Some of our children have seen the blue bus rolling through town, and now they get to say they’ve been on it.”
The morning’s activities kicked off with reading specialist Jackie Ibbitson reading aloud Patricia Polacco’s picture book Thank You, Mr. Falker, based on the author’s own struggles as a young reader and her journey into literacy, thanks to intensive help, understanding, and encouragement from a teacher who recognized both her challenges and her gifts.
“Many times when you read books, you relate to them,” Ibbitson told the PJ-and-slipper-clad fourth-graders gathered on the bus. “They touch your heart.” Ibbitson revealed that she, too, had struggled with a learning disability as a child and related to the teasing and embarrassment Polacco’s character felt.
Teacher Jeni Czekala, whose class was first to board the bus this morning, said, “It’s so nice to see kids have a moment to enjoy literature and carry out that love of reading. We get to give them time to experience the joy of a good story, to empathize with its characters, and to see something of their own lives or someone else’s in the tales they read and hear.” In the classroom, Czekala explained, “We are so data-driven and pressed for time that to be able to be able to stop, sit and listen, and enjoy a story is refreshing.”
“Children sometimes lose their love of reading because of testing and other pressures at school,” Ibbitson agreed. “I want to bring back the idea of reading just for joy.”
Other guest readers on the weeklong bus tour have included teachers, library media specialists, mayors, school administrators, legislators, and other local luminaries.
The brainchild of Plainfield Superintendent Kenneth DiPietro, the mobile library that doubled as CEF’s Reading Bus is the realization of a multi-year effort, including generous donations from local businesses.
“Knowing CEF’s support for literacy, using the bus to bring reading to Connecticut’s northeastern towns was a perfect match,” DiPietro said. “The bright blue bus, the loudspeaker song ‘Gotta Keep Reading,’ and hours of storytelling on board generate the same kind of excitement you see when the ice cream trucks rolls through the neighborhood. In every community we heard the same comments: that students would love to ride that bus to school every day!”