Eight-year-old twins Eva and Owen Wilkinson were right on time to meet the Book Cafe, a Snohomish School District bookmobile that makes weekly summertime stops at the Plantation mobile home park.
Where was it? Where was the big green bookmobile that rolls up Tuesday mornings?
As they waited with their mom, Shannon Wilkinson, a smaller school district van pulled in the driveway. Out popped Rebekah Fox and Kim Waltz, familiar faces to kids using the Book Cafe this summer.
Fox teaches kindergarten at Cascade View Elementary. Waltz is a Lake Stevens district aide who works with special education students. Their summer gig, on Mondays and Tuesdays, is handing out books at Snohomish-area mobile home parks, the Snohomish Boys & Girls Club and the Snohomish Aquatic Center. The seasonal program ends next Tuesday.
Despite a faulty water pump on the bookmobile Tuesday, books arrived — just a few minutes late.
“I like ‘Dog Man,’ ” said Owen, who attends Riverview Elementary with his sister. The “Dog Man” books are written by Dav Pilkey, creator of the popular “Captain Underpants” series.
“I can’t go to the library,” said Wilkinson, 39, who was in a mobility chair Tuesday.
The Book Cafe is the brainchild of Jenny Granger. Now Centennial Middle School’s librarian, from 1994 to 2017 she was at Emerson Elementary in Snohomish. As librarian there, Granger saw children who had no books at home. And teachers commonly see a “summer slide” in reading skills, she said.
In 2012, Granger talked her Emerson principal into opening the school library for a few hours a week during the summer. Few kids came, she said. Rather than bringing kids to the books, she wanted to take books to where children live.
By 2013, as a summer volunteer, Granger was using a 1970s van to haul books to mobile home parks and other places kids gathered. In 2014, she loaded books into an old yellow school bus the district let her use. Some Book Cafe stops are at places that also serve subsidized summer meals for kids.
Today, the Book Cafe is supported by the Snohomish district and grants, about $1,500 per year, from the nonprofit Snohomish Education Foundation. Kristin Foley, a district spokeswoman, said the bookmobile was purchased at an auction in 2015 for $19,200. Granger said it was once the Everett Public Library’s bookmobile. Due to a budget cut, Everett ended bookmobile service in 2014.
Now the Book Cafe has paid staffers — Fox the teacher and Waltz the driver. Granger is the program’s coordinator.
It’s not a check-out and return system. Children may keep the books, many of them donated and some no longer used in school libraries. Kids are encouraged to “find those books you love and keep them,” Granger said. “When they’re ready to be done with them, it’s a really nice book recycling program.”
Granger estimated that 100 to 150 children are given books each time the Book Cafe goes out for a day — there’s a need for at least 300 books a week.
“One of the big surprises, we didn’t think of the little, little guys — the sisters and brothers,” Granger said.
At the Snohomish Mobile Home Park, a 2-year-old named Lia held tightly to an “Elmo & Friends” book with one hand while holding on to her 12-year-old sister, Roseli, with the other.
Flipping through books in bins marked by category — popular titles, sports, science and picture books — children searched for favorites. “Star Wars” and “Pete the Cat” books are among top requests.
When a 12-year-old at the Circle H Mobile Home Park began to walk away with a “Molly Moon” book, Fox called him back to hand him one more. “You might as well read the whole series,” she said. Later, Fox said the Book Cafe is “the best summer job in the world.”
There can be reluctant customers, especially middle-school boys, Granger said. As a boy at the Snohomish Mobile Home Park began to leave without a book, Fox pulled more titles from a bin and said, “Now sir, could I tempt you with one of these?” Eventually, he took a book.
As an alternative to goodbye, Granger called out: “You’ve got to read before you get to school. Your brain will hurt if you don’t.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Book Cafe, a Snohomish School District bookmobile serving several Snohomish sites during the summer, continues through Tuesday.
Donations of new or gently used books for children and teens may be dropped off at the district office, 1601 Avenue D, Snohomish, or at Snohomish schools (during school hours).