Head Start students receive free books

“Bess the Book Bus” visited Brenda Hunter Head Start Thursday to deliver free children’s books to each student. A mobile literacy outreach that travels the nation, Bess was created in 2002 by Jennifer Frances who had a desire to volunteer in her Tampa, Fla., community.

Frances said she noticed “missing pieces in the community” regarding affordable book availability for families to build home libraries and generate excitement about reading. With a wagon in tow, Frances began visiting in-need classrooms, clinics and hospitals to read and give away books.

“In the beginning I was just begging for books,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing, which is probably a good thing. I just did it. Just do what you want to do and you’ll find a way.”

Over time and with success, she moved from a wagon to a Volkswagen bus and now a Mercedes Benz bus sponsored by Citgo that houses hundreds of books donated from major publishers. Meeting her goal of getting children excited about reading came fairly easy, she said.

“We don’t have to generate excitement. It’s all about access, choice and ownership.”

Frances said many of the children she works with have never been to a bookstore or even a library.

“Bess is like marrying a library and a book store,” she said. “You get the choice, but it’s free.”

Brenda Hunter Principal Bridget Roberson said Bess has visited the school annually over the past eight years.

“We’re really fortunate,” she said. “Our staff looks forward to the smiles on their faces and the kids, they’re going to talk about this all day.”

Roberson said Bess’s mission is a great fit for her students because “not every home is filled with books.”

Though most of the school’s 3-year-olds are not reading yet, Roberson said students learn just by looking at the pictures.

“They love reading and making up their own stories,” she said. “They can look at one book and kids can have two totally different interpretations. It’s really the foundation of becoming a reader.”

Bess the Book Bus is headed to Houston and Corpus Christi, Texas, next. For more information, visit www.bessthebookbus.org.


Jennifer Frances, founder of “Bess the Book Bus,” visits with a student during Thursday’s stop at Brenda Hunter Head Start.

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Students at Brenda Hunter Head Start show off their new books from “Bess the Book Bus” who stopped by Thursday for a visit.

Special to the American Press