Amethyst and Elkview


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.


Books Bring Out the Best

Charging the Hill on Kathwood Drive
Melaney Smith

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.

Bibliobike Books on Display
Melaney Smith

Melaney contributed more than photos. She also helped set everything up, which was the first time the books were arranged and displayed.

First Visitors
Melaney Smith

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.

Blanca and Son
Melaney Smith

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.

Mauricio Reads to Cameron
Rinne Allen

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.



Ready to Roll


Thanks to Mike at Athens Blueprint & Copy Shop for applying the vinyl Bibliobike logos with surgical skill in midday summer heat.

Cruising the school bus loop provided a feel for how the rig handles, which is quite smooth. One of the first rides around town was a surprise visit this morning to Avid Books in Five Points to thank Rachel Watkins for her social media wizardry.


I passed out fliers in three neighborhoods yesterday afternoon, and talked with residents about the project. Curious and welcoming families discussed optimal days and times. At Kathwood Apartments, a father named Roberto offered to spread the word and said he knows a family who’ll likely donate books to the cause.

So deliveries begin next week. The (best laid) plan is to visit one locale per day at six in the evening so parents who work during the day will be home, along with kids who attend camps or daycare elsewhere. Here’s the tentative schedule:

Kathwood Apartments, Wednesdays at 6:00pm

Park Place Apartments, Thursdays at 6:00pm

Jeffreys Court, Fridays at 6:00pm


That Book Woman Cover
Simon and Schuster

These are some of the books that inspired the idea for the Bibliobike. The first is about a boy in rural Appalachia during the Great Depression who is visited by a Pack Horse Librarian. Here’s a blurb from the publisher, Simon and Schuster:

High up on a mountain, right near the tippy-top, Cal and his family squeak out a living with their farm. There’s no time for visiting or reading or learning, and that suits Cal just fine. But then a woman starts coming around with loads of books for borrowing, and Cal has to wonder if there’s something to this reading after all.

A summer without books would be tragic for a once-reluctant reader whose love of books began during the school year. Bibliobike will keep kids connected to literature.

Pack Horse Librarian 1936
Kentucky Digital Library
Pack Horse Librarian Visit
Kentucky Digital Library
Pack Horse Librarians
Kentucky Digital Library
Lee & Low Books

The following is a synopsis by Lee & Low Books of Richard Wright and the Library Card, written by William Miller.

As a child, Richard Wright loves to hear the stories his family tells, and he can’t wait to learn to read stories on his own. Because his family moves often in search of work, Richard has little opportunity to go to school. With the help of his mother, Richard does finally learn to read. However, they don’t have money to buy books, and few libraries in the South in the early 1900s are open to African Americans. At age 17, Richard seeks work in Memphis and lands a job as a helper and errand boy in an optician’s office. There he enlists the aid of a co-worker, Jim Falk, himself an outsider because he is Catholic. Falk helps Richard find a way to borrow the books he craves from the library. Richard reads everything he can get his hands on and knows he will never be the same again. For him, every page is “a ticket to freedom.” Soon after, Richard sets off for Chicago to make a new life for himself in the North.

Gregory Christie’s evocative illustrations capture the Jim Crow South superbly. Click here to read a conversation I had with Christie for Literacyhead Magazine in 2011.

Waiting for the Biblioburro
Penguin Random House

Waiting for the Biblioburro, written by Monica Brown, is the bilingual story of librarian and teacher Luis Soriano Bohórquez. He travels with two burros loaded with books to rural villages in Columbia. Carlos Rendón Zipagauta directed a documentary for PBS about Bohórquez and you can visit Luis Soriano Bohórquez’s blog here.

Luis Soriano Bohorquez
The Librarian of Basra
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Jeanette Winter’s book, The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, is about an Iraqi woman who has been a librarian for fourteen years. When war comes to her city, she struggles to save thousands of books from destruction.

Mom drove me to shifts at my first job at the Camden County Public Library in Kingsland, Georgia. At the age of fourteen, my sole task at the library was re-shelving books. I hated it. At the time, I planned on being a professional skater or soccer player, so spending quiet hours indoors was the last thing I wanted to. It’s curious how things work out.

Kindred Goals

Books for Keeps Logo

When Leslie Hale reached out shortly after the video was posted, she noted that Books for Keeps and Bibliobike share similar goals of countering summer slide and providing literature to children who otherwise would have limited access. As the executive director of Books for Keeps since 2013, Leslie has extensive experience promoting literacy. She invited me to the warehouse to discuss a potential partnership.


Between now and the end of the school year, Books for Keeps will deliver 60,000 books to elementary schools in Clarke County. Sans shiny display cases, the annual event is somewhat similar to a book fair. The major differences are that every book is free and every child goes home that day with twelve self-selected books.


When asked how the nonprofit decides which schools to serve, Leslie said it’s based on free and reduced lunch percentages, but they are “in the process of trying to reach every school.”

Books for Keeps purchases new books at a significantly discounted rate from Scholastic and First Book, a nonprofit founded in 1992 to provide literature and learning materials to those in need. For used books, there are many drop-off points around town, including Allstate branches, churches and other local businesses. Click here for a complete list of locations and more information about Books for Keeps.


Books for Keeps’ employees and volunteers will take a much needed break following spring deliveries to schools. After that, Leslie offered to contribute books to the Bibliobike. A section of the cart will be reserved for books to be given away at each stop throughout the summer (like a Little Free Library on wheels). Thanks again to Leslie and everyone else who supports literacy!