NSSM Guest Post about The Book Bus Foundation

Barbara Band is a secondary school librarian who has been on a big adventure, involving a bus packed with books and decorated with Quentin Blake illustrations, and a passion for sharing stories. In this post she describes her experience of working as a volunteer for The Book Bus Foundation, and reminds us of the fundamental value of sharing stories, regardless of where you live.

Sharing stories in Africa

Part of my daughter’s Gap Year consisted of volunteering in Kenya, of which I was extremely envious as this was something I’d always wanted to do, but unfortunately didn’t have the time commitments such programmes require. Then I discovered The Book Bus, where you can volunteer for a minimum of two weeks – so signed up!

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The Book Bus Foundation was founded in 2008 with one mobile library visiting schools in Zambia; eight years on it also has programmes running in Malawi and Ecuador. As a UK registered charity, it receives no government funding but relies 100% on donations. Its aim is to supply books and make them accessible to children to help get them reading and therefore give them more life choices.

I joined the Book Bus programme in Livingstone, Zambia. Our accommodation was in tents permanently erected within the grounds of a local house where we had kitchen and washroom facilities. The bus, a converted single-decker decorated with Quentin Blake illustrations, visits local schools in a rota carrying out a programme of activities devised by the volunteers.

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Each school is very similar, often consisting of two or three basic rooms with insufficient facilities or resources so very few reading opportunities. Consequently, the arrival of the Book Bus laden with books, craft materials and enthusiastic volunteers ready to work with the children is greeted with much excitement. Regardless of the ages of the children, sessions are very similar, starting with the reading of a story followed by associated craft activities; for example, “We’re Going on a Lion Hunt” by David Axtell lends itself to the making of lion masks. If multiple copies of the book are available then shared reading is possible but more often than not, it is easier to read to the children – and such is the lure of this that students from earlier classes hang around outside to listen.

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Storytelling pre-dates the printed word. It was the way communities were strengthened and maintained, and is evident in many ancient cultures. In fact, Grimm’s tales are a collection of oral stories, edited according to the values of the time and even today storytelling sessions in local public libraries are extremely popular. Though I worked as a school librarian surrounded by books every day, and read bedtime stories to my children until they were well into double-figures, I had forgotten how much pleasure telling stories can bring and was reminded of this during my time in Zambia. Sitting in a group, sharing a story, creates an intimacy, building relationships and understanding, and I was determined to bring this back with me. So I changed the way I worked with my students, beginning their lessons with a story – and this has become one of the delights of my week! It is easy to forget how powerful the spoken word can be and easy to be distracted by technology – yet storytelling is a time-honoured tradition, one that crosses barriers and appeals to all.

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We would love to hear from anyone else who has volunteered for the Book Bus, or for any similar charity working to bring children and books together around the world.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

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