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Virginia Journal of Education



‘Books on Bikes’ makes sure some Charlottesville youngsters keep cracking books over the summer.

By Tom Allen

As the convoy of seven or eight teachers on bicycles pedaled into the parking lot of Charlottesville’s Friendship Court apartment complex, word spread quickly. By the time the cyclists had eased over the first couple speed bumps, elementary school age kids, and a few a bit older, were popping up around corners and out of apartment doors.

The children’s squeals of delight announced the arrival of Books on Bikes, a summer outreach to the community created by two Charlottesville school librarians and a classroom teacher. Now in its second year, Books on Bikes is a strategy for building excitement about reading by having educators pedal around the city, connecting with students and giving them free books.

And on this evening, there are both connection and books galore. Mary Craig, Rebecca Flowers and Kellie Keyser, the three educators behind Books on Bikes, are soon exchanging hugs with Friendship Court youngsters and helping them select books from the many the teachers have laid out on the sidewalk.

“My sister has this book!” one youngster exclaims, while others make their choices (limit two per person) and some negotiating and swapping breaks out.

“The kids get so excited, and that’s exactly what we’re after,” says Craig, a Charlottesville Education Association member and the librarian at Clark Elementary School, the launching point for the bike trips. “We want them to develop an appreciation for books and a love of reading, and we also want to prevent them from sliding back in their reading skills over the summer.”

When Books on Bikes began in the summer of 2013, most of the book deliveries were made by car. Teachers would arrive in a neighborhood, load up little red wagons with the books, and cart them around. Craig and Flowers knew they wanted bikes to be part of the program, a decision that was sealed when, as Craig says, “The kids got excited and started following our cars and wagons on their bikes.”

There’s still a car involved in most of the outings, however, offering support. Zoe Padron, an Albemarle Education Association member and former Clark teacher, is often at the wheel. “We bring along the popsicles,” she says, with a laugh. “We also bring the board books, because they can get heavy.”

Fluent in Spanish, Padron can also help youngsters with the Spanish version books that are also part of the delivery.

Guest riders are welcome. On one evening this July, the bikers included Charlottesville High School principal Jill Dahl and CHS librarian Kelly Kroese, along with Blue Ridge UniServ Director Bekah Saxon, who all came along to see Books on Bikes in action. Many of the Friendship Court children recognized Dahl, a former assistant principal at Clark, and others. School board members and school administrators have also been invited to join the riders.

Friendship Court is one of four city neighborhoods, including a trailer park, that Bikes on Books serves on a rotating, twice-weekly schedule through the summer, while also making occasional appearances at community events and local pools.

“It’s really a simple project and it goes very well,” says Craig, adding with a laugh, “Charlottesville is quite hilly, so it helps us stay fit, too.”

It takes more than spare change to keep Books on Bikes operating, and no one knows it better than Craig, Flowers and Keyser. Together, they launched a 20-day campaign in May on Kickstarter, a fundraising website, and the Charlottesville community ponied up over $5000.

A chunk of those funds went toward the purchase of heavy-duty, load-bearing cycles called cargo bikes, which are gaining popularity in some urban areas, sometimes as replacements for cars. The three now in the Books on Bikes fleet are outfitted with baskets good for carrying several hundred children’s books.

Some of those books are purchased and many are donated, by organizations such as the Friends of the Jefferson Madison Regional Library. Other organizations pitching in are Charlottesville City Schools, which has helped provide publicity; Charlottesville merchant Blue Wheel Bicycles; and Lighthouse Studios, a local video production company.

To learn more about Books on Bikes, check the program’s website,, or Facebook page,

Allen is the editor of the Virginia Journal of Education.


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