At the second stop on the first day of the maiden voyage of the Johnson City School District's new bookmobile, a little boy named Jayden, newly graduated from kindergarten, hopped on board.
"This isn't a bookmobile," he declared. "It's a magic bus."
The yellow school bus, outfitted with bookshelves and carpeted floor, cafe-style tables and cushioned seats created magic every Wednesday from late June to late August, putting books about Harry Potter and Big Nate, the Dork Diaries and the Magic Tree House, and Jayden's first selection, My Apron, into eager young hands.
"That little boy ... he made my summer," said Jennifer Snyder, a reading teacher and member of the Johnson City Teachers Association. She volunteered along with other educators to staff the bookmobile throughout the summer. "He did not miss a single Wednesday."
The site-based, decision-making team at Johnson City's Intermediate School for grades 3-5 in Broome County proposed the plan for the bookmobile last spring. Simply bringing baskets of books to city parks during the summer "just wasn't enough," Snyder said. "We had to reach more kids."
So the team collected books donated by the dozens.
"We got donations from community members, and some money from our PTO and the district to buy books," she said.
Teachers sorted not-so-gently-used books for students to keep. Books in better condition were affixed with neon stickers so youngsters knew which ones to return.
An older school bus ready for trade-in was instead refitted. A crew of mechanics, members of the Johnson City Employees Association, ripped out seats and rear heaters.
We spun two of the seats around and but a booth in," said head mechanic Randy Clark.
The mechanics built bookshelves, laid carpet (with extra padding in the back so kids could sit on it) and brought in tables and chairs. "None of this could have happened without them," Snyder said. Add a bus driver and teacher's aide and the Magic Bus was in business.
Parents and children gathered at every one of the bookmobile's four stops that first Wednesday.
"The kids were waiting for us when we pulled up. It was just so precious," Snyder said.
Youngsters were limited to three books each, yet many "would have taken 10," she said. And they displayed "a great amount of responsibility" in bringing the returnable books back.
The bookmobile opened the hearts and minds of more than 425 children, lending more than 1,500 books. Demand was so great the district hopes to set up two bookmobiles for next summer.
"So many of our students just don't have books in their homes," Snyder said. "Some kids have books, but wanted variety. Either way we wanted to get books into their hands so they would keep reading over the summer and not lose the gains they made in school."
And experience a little magic in the process.
DID YOU KNOW
NYSUT members can put new books into the hands of students in Title I or Title I-eligible schools at low to no cost by using First Book, a not-for-profit organization promoted statewide by NYSUT and nationally by AFT. Register at www.firstbook.org/aft.