One of last summer’s Bibliobike stops was on a concrete slab at the corner of Amethyst and Elkview situated in a Latino community of fifty or so duplexes. A former student and long time resident named Carlos said, “You should set up at La Escuelita.” This summer I will.
A collaboration between UGA and the Northeast Georgia Foodbank converted the duplex into a small after school center for residents of the Garnet Ridge community in 2014. When I visited the building last summer, I must have missed the hour-long window when lunches are served because it was vacant. This summer’s timing is much better.
I call the number on the Summer Food Service Program flyer for “more information.” A kind woman gives me specific delivery times and site manager names for locations around town. Garnet Ridge deliveries are scheduled from noon to one, so I drive over (rather than tow the cart in case nobody’s there) and meet Latasha. After my Bibliobike spiel, she says, “You’ll help us, and we’ll help you.” She says turnout has been low, and if the number of kids on a given day continues to drop below twelve, the site will be shut down. Hopefully free books will incentivize more kids to come out when the Bibliobike returns.
For more information about the history of The Awesome Clubhouse @ La Escuelita, click here.
Compared to the ride to Kathwood, pedaling to the corner of Amethyst and Elkview was twice as far, much hotter and more uphill. Anticipating said challenges, I brought an insulated bag with freezer packs and frozen washcloths to cool down, and a double insulated water bottle that keeps ice frozen when the heat index surpasses one hundred degrees.
Situated among a series of duplexes many former students call home, a concrete slab offers a fairly flat parking spot. It took a bit for folks to brave the heat, so at first I worried nobody would show. I was wrong.
Sixteen people visited, including parents and grandparents who selected books for young family members. For his granddaughter, one man chose The Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellers, a graphic novel about archeologist Isabel Soto’s adventures while exploring Colorado’s Cliff Palace ruins. When a curious mom emerged from her home, she walked over and chose a book about animals with vibrant illustrations for her eight week old daughter.
Sisters took younger siblings by the hand and helped them choose. While one middle schooler’s little brother browsed, she said, “I was a Tree Frog. I went to Chase from pre-K through fifth grade. It’s a great school.” She asked about former teachers, and we chatted about favorites like Mr. Sugiuchi and Mrs. Dean, who still teach there.
Kids frequently request specific titles and topics. One of the first was from a young reader who I recognized as a writer because she was wearing a Camp Red Clay t-shirt.
“What types of books have you read in the past year?” I asked.
“Some about mental illness. And poetry too.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any books on either topic, so she selected My Name is Celia, a bilingual picture book about Celia Cruz, and a chapter book called The Rescue, about a dog whisperer.
Other kids requested mysteries, Harry Potter, and Roald Dahl. So once home, I searched through bags and boxes of donated books, and found two titles from the Harry Potter series, and Dahl’s The Magic Finger (a personal favorite). For the girl interested in poetry and mental illness, I found Who Was Edgar Allen Poe, and a book of poetry I’ve shared with students over the years called Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. As for mental illness, the DSM 5 might be a rabbit hole too advanced for a fifteen year old. If any of you have suggestions for books about mental illness geared toward children, please let me know.
I’ll return to Amethyst and Elkview next Tuesday at five with a handful of requested books. Hopefully some of the same readers will join me again.
Summer book deliveries began at four on the first Wednesday of July. Two miles each way, pedal power lugged the bike, trailer, umbrella, two water bottles, a ten by ten tarp (thirty percent chance of afternoon thunderstorms), four bungee cords, and around fifty books split between four panniers and the trailer’s lower storage compartment in an attempt to distribute the weight evenly, while keeping the center of gravity as low as possible. The rig is a hoss.
Once on Prince Avenue, I started pedaling along the sidewalk. That didn’t last long because not all curb cuts are created the same…
It’s doubtful that the ones in front of the old Navy School can safely accommodate wheelchairs, so forget trying to weave the Bibliobike in and out of them. Where some streets intersect, the cuts spit me out into oncoming traffic. And at the bottom of a steep hill in front of a large granite boulder, the sidewalk ended under three inches of standing water. I’d had enough. So I dismounted and walked the Bibliobike through the puddle, waited for a break in traffic, then crossed the street and joined the flow of cars and trucks barrelling west.
With few vehicles and a mellow downhill grade, Old Jefferson River Road eased some stress after navigating Prince Avenue’s steady stream of traffic. This was the setting of a serendipitous chance encounter with a woman who stuck her arm out of the driver’s side window and flagged me down. The arm belongs to Melaney Smith, who said she’d heard about the Bibliobike and introduced herself as the founder of Books for Keeps, an organization that supplied much of the literature I was hauling. She asked if she could follow me to Kathwood Apartments to take some photos, so Melaney’s car became the lead in an impromptu motorcade escort up and down the hill on Kathwood Drive, and around a couple blind curves on the way to the apartment complex.
Melaney contributed more than photos. She also helped set everything up, which was the first time the books were arranged and displayed.
A kind woman named Blanca and her boys were the first visitors. We talked about choosing “good-fit books,” while they searched for just the right one.
You could tell literacy is important to Blanca by the way she helped her family select books, recruited nearby kids, and sat and read with them on a shady bench. She also offered to donate books when I return. Her oldest son chose Tom Angelberger’s Origami Yoda, even though he had never attempted paper folding before (childhood tragedy averted). I used a Bibliobike flyer to show him how to make a perfect square and agreed to bring some proper origami paper with me next week.
Rinne Allen is a photographer of many things beautiful, and a super supportive mother of a former student/old soul/voracious reader. She joined me at Kathwood with her two sons to chat and witness the inaugural Bibliobike visit. As clouds began building in the west, a collective effort to pack everything up began organically. Rinne’s son held the bike while I reconnected the trailer. Nigeria – the Bibliobike superfan of the day who kept coming back to get books for her siblings – and her older brother made sure all the clasps were closed. We double checked the lights to make sure they were on and flashing, and I explained that I like to keep them on what I call “epileptic mode,” to ensure highest visibility once back on the road. In all, fourteen kids came and went between five and seven. Nigeria gently placed the helmet on my head, and I was on my way.
At the start of every school day, students meet a different morning message on the board that includes a creative image and music alongside the respective artists’ names. I discovered Bekka Wright’s Bikeyfaceseries five years ago while searching for humorous cartoons related to cycling to share with the kids. During Morning Meeting, her illustrations spark lively conversations about crashes, college students with minimal driving experience behind the wheels of Fordasuaruses, bike etiquette and safety. This one always lights the DIY fire…
Bibliobike has reignited a fervor sparked back in 2003. Like Bekka Wright, Los Angeles was the unexpected setting of my reintroduction to biking. I pulled up roots that had been spreading throughout Athens since ’95 and followed someone across the country to a tiny apartment in Marina Del Rey. I bought a navy blue single speed beach cruiser with a basket on the front and spent a year surfing, waiting tables, reading and writing. In a sprawling city known for some of the worst traffic in the country, I drove less that year than I ever had before. Without intention, biking had become the default mode of transportation (when not riding a board of some sort). When I moved back to Georgia to teach and be closer to family, I automatically chose a place where I could bike just about everywhere I needed to go.
Hopefully, the Bibliobike will encourage kids and families throughout the community to consider getting out of their cars more often and begin shifting the transportation paradigm.