Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Bookmobile

I've been dropping off books at students' houses since we went into lockdown last spring. Today was my twelfth bookmobile run this school year--I didn't keep good records of last spring, when I thought this would all be more temporary. 

I don't live in the town I teach in, which is actually two towns that run into each other without any break between them. Forest Grove has a small college and two fancy parts of town: the part near downtown with lovely homes from the early 20th century, and the part up on the hill with McMansions built in the last twenty years. Cornelius has a majority Latinx population and no part of town that could be called anything more grandiose than "pleasant." Both towns also contain areas that run somewhere between "run-down" and "grim." Each town has a solid library, but our county's libraries have been closed to the public since March, and not all of my students are able to navigate the online order and pickup system. I've delivered books all over both towns, though students whose families are able to buy books are less likely to need my services. Today's drive was typical enough that I thought I'd document it.  

 I put 49 miles on the car from school to home (usually an 18 mile trip). Today was a little extreme, as one student lives 17 miles from school, in the opposite direction from my home. (I'm not even sure why she goes to our school, since I have to literally drive through another town to get to her house.) Usually my trips are concentrated within 3 miles or so of the school in any direction.

Today was also a little extreme in that the radio on my ride to school was all "Democrats win Georgia!" and "Here's an interview with an author who says being kind helps you live longer," and by the time I left school with my car full of books, it was more "Would you call this sedition, insurrection, or terrorism?" and "Number of dead yet to be confirmed." 

My first stop was at an apartment I've been to often enough now that I know where to park and don't have to triple check the number on the door before knocking. Nobody answered, so I left I Wish You All the Best on the doorstep, but as I walked back to the car, I heard my student open the door and call, "Thank you!" She's been waiting for the book for awhile, and I finally bought a second copy when I realized I was never getting my "classroom" copy back from my daughter.

The next stop was at a trailer in the park that runs for a solid mile or so behind the Walmart overlapping both towns, unnamed roads interconnecting in a confusing web that Google Maps handles better than Waze or Mapquest. I knocked on the door and was greeted by a younger brother, maybe 10. "I have books for E," I told him, and he nodded and wandered off leaving the door open. I noticed the placement of the gas grill right outside the front door, quite convenient for winter cooking. An even younger brother came to take a peek at me, and ducked away again when I said hi. I can only assume no parents were home since nobody yelled "We're not trying to heat all of Cornelius!" as the door stayed open. My student finally appeared, juggling a stack of returns, and we traded. She now has all of my Walking Dead comics, the complete Sunny series, and several other graphic novels.

Next I went to a new-to-me house, always a bit unnerving as I try to peer at addresses without steering into the curb. This home is set up something like an old time motel, with eight one-story attached dwellings in two C shapes.  Nobody answers the door, but I know they've recently recovered from Covid-19 at their house, so I'm not sure if they are just being cautious. This student had asked for books for a younger and older sibling as well, so I leave picture books as well as the requested Matilda and Divergent on the doorstep and continue on.

It's only a few blocks to the next stop, the girl who's requested books every time but one. She lives in a one story home, and her two dogs bark their eagerness every time I come by. Her parents are flustered by my arrival, not sure if the stack of books she left out are meant to be given back to me or not, trying to pull the dogs away from the door. My glasses have steamed up from my mask, and I can't see through their screen door, so I'm equally awkward. I leave her new books on the little bench outside (The Book Thief for her, Roller Girl for her younger sister), and quickly grab the returns from her mom while her dad hangs onto the dogs. 

I head to another new stop, also nearby, also a one story home from the late 70s or so. I'm admiring the hanging wreath that dangles from a wire on the porch, and I hear a little voice say, "Who's there?" then a bigger voice say, "OH!" and the door flies open. Since it's my first time dropping off books here, it's my first time seeing this student in person, and he's much taller than I'd realized. "Hi, Ms Gassaway!" he says, beaming.

"I had two My Hero Academia books, so I brought them both," I tell him, and also, "I like your wreath!"

Next up is a stop for a kid who'd specifically asked me "Please don't leave after books are dropped, I really need to get the books you gave me, off me." So when I knocked on the door of the tall, narrow house he seems to share with a bunch of brothers, I waited longer than I usually would for a response. I'd just headed back to the car to get a plastic bag to put his books into so I could safely leave them out front when he came to the door, holding those books he needed to get off of him. He reads a lot of Chinese books and prefers manga in English, so I dropped off the first volume of Naruto, two random manga books, and Amulet book 1.

Then it was time to head out into the country, past dairy farms and fields, along a muddy brown river, past the "no gas for 40 miles" sign, to my most distant student. Her home is only reachable via a private bridge across the river, and a gate blocks it from the highway. Her dad was outside and he and a big yellow lab and a small black and white shepherd came to see what I wanted. I passed the books through the fence and resisted my urge to ask him if I could stay and get a better look. Dogs and dad were friendly, but there was a definite "no trespassing" vibe. She'd only asked for one specific book, but I know she's a big reader and I don't want to have to make the drive every week, so I added Exit, Pursued by a Bear, Internment, and Cinder to the one she'd requested, Pumpkinheads.

It started pouring as I drove back to town, Douglas firs dripping on either side, then swampy fields opening back up as I got closer to civilization. NPR kept up a steady stream of polite outrage, broken up with an interview recorded during happier times--aka this morning--of a founder of Black Voters Matter, who broke into song. In addition to the books students gave back to me, I brought home another two dozen or so books from the classroom to tell them about next week.

This year my little bookmobile has made 112 drop-offs altogether, for 52 separate students. Over 200 books are currently checked out, after picking up 19 returns today. Six kids have requested books five or more times, and I'm still adding more "customers," with two first-time requesters today. 

I refuse to calculate how many miles overall I've put on the car for much the same reason I don't calculate how much money I spend on books for my classroom. Instead, I focus on the benefits--the students who are happy to actually see their teacher in person, the dogs I get to pet, the books that are being read instead of sitting on the shelf, the discoveries students make. Who knows, maybe it will even help me live longer? 


  1. I LOVE that you are doing this for your students! I was a librarian for 4 years at one of our local high schools and seeing students get books that they want to read was always a highlight. I am sure that the students and families really appreciate what you are doing for them. Positivity in the midst of all the icky.

  2. This is an amazing and heart warming story! I love that you do this!!!!

  3. This is the best thing ever! (Well, not the attempted violent coup, but the book stuff.) I definitely would have requested books and then freaked out when my teacher showed up at my house.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. Wendy, what a lovely story. As your blogging friend and as a librarian, I feel a strong need to share. Surely others need to hear this story, need to be reminded there is much good in the world.


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