Snohomish’s Emerson Elementary librarian nationally recognized for her roving Book Cafe

SNOHOMISH — The photographers tipped her off.

Jenny Granger, a librarian at Snohomish’s Emerson Elementary, suspected something was up at the Friday school assembly, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. So she was surprised to learn that she was receiving national recognition as a “Life Changer of the Year.” That’s why reporters and photographers were there.

Granger was honored for converting an old yellow school bus into a rolling library that brings books to low-income neighborhoods and places where children gather in Snohomish during the summer.

“This is overwhelming,” she said. “But the project really depended on a lot of people. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears.”

At Friday’s assembly, students and staff clapped and cheered for their librarian. They were told she was selected as one of the top 10 life-changing educators from more than 600 nominees across the county.

“I should have clapped more,” Emerson third-grader Jaden Riffe, 8, whispered.

The award came with $1,500 for Granger and another $1,500 for Emerson Elementary. Principal Craig Church gave Granger the school’s money to invest in her book bus. He hopes the award will help put more energy into her project and attract more volunteers and donations.

“This shows that somebody’s little idea can grow into amazing things and touch people’s hearts,” Church said.

The National Life Group, a Vermont-headquartered company that provides financial services for educators, pays for the award program. A committee of past winners chooses the recipients.

“Changing lives for good is something we can all value,” said Bob Johnson, the company’s field vice president in Auburn. “That’s what educators do all of their working lives.”

Granger’s mother, Rob Graham, came to the school assembly from Bellingham on Friday. She said she wasn’t surprised when her daughter wanted to spend her summer break getting kids to do more reading.

“She’s just always loved books,” Graham said.

Granger has long had her sights on beating the “summer slide.” That’s a term educators use to describe a general drop in student scores between tests in June and September. Granger says a big factor is the fact that kids don’t read as much during the summer.

So she decided to do something about it. Granger opened the school library for a few hours each week during the summer of 2012. But many students didn’t have a ride to the school.

In 2013, she tried the traveling library approach in a 1970s van. That was tough because tubs of books had to be lugged in and out of the red van at each stop.

Last summer, she turned a bus into a roving bookmobile. The Book Cafe makes stops that coincide with the times and locations of subsidized summer lunch programs. Granger encourages kids to come aboard and pick out books.

“You can get as many books as you want,” said sixth-grader Leslie Hernandez, 12. “And you can keep them or return them.”

Inside the bus, the books are shelved in wooden boxes similar to those in a record store so kids can see the illustrations on the front as they sort through titles.

“They have good books that I like,” said Emerson fifth-grader Jessica Rojas, 11, noting that her favorites include realistic fiction and books with chapters.

The bus looks cartoonish, with hot-pink eyelashes over the headlights. The extendable stop sign that was used to stop traffic while loading and unloading kids now says “Read.”

For the first time this summer, students will be able to download e-books on the bus. Granger also hopes to add a couple of stops to the route.

Kim Heinemann, the district’s administrative assistant, nominated Granger for the award.

“It makes a big difference,” Heinemann said. “She truly changes lives.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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