EAST HELENA — A bus stopped by Radley Elementary School in East Helena on Friday, but not just any bus, the "Busload of Books." Illustrator Robbi Behr and her husband, author Matthew Swanson, are on the tail end of their cross-country trip in the bus.
Behr and Swanson packed up their kids and pets and set out on the road to visit schools in ever state, giving away their books as they go. Montana is the 47th state they visited, and Radley Elementary School was their destination in the Treasure State.
“This was probably one of the best school days, literally ever!” Radley Elementary School student Willa Oakes said of the Busload of Books visit.
Radley Elementary School librarian KD Jones applied last year for the Busload of Books to stop at the school.
“We were fortunate enough to be chosen as their Montana stop,” Jones said.
Students and teachers in the school got a copy of Behr and Swanson’s book “Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Doom”—that’s about 520 books. In all, Swanson and Behr have given out about 25,000 books to kids and teachers across the country.
Some students, like Oakes and her classmate Madison Stewart, read the book before the Busload of Books visit.
“It was so good,” Oakes said, noting she read it in just one day.
“I didn’t think I’d like it, but they just threw so much at you, it was fun,” Stewart said, adding that the book reminded her of works by one of her favorite authors.
Behr and Swanson spent the day at Radley Elementary School, chatting with students about the book, their trip and what it’s like to write and illustrate books.
“We are just trying to let kids know that they are creators too,” Swanson said. “It’s not just about reading, it’s about telling their stories, using experience to connect with other people.”
That message resonated, inspiring some students like Oakes and Stewart to consider a future in writing.
“I’m going to have author as a side job,” Stewart said—she wants to be a pediatrician as her primary career.
“I think it would be fun,” Oakes said of a career in writing.
The journey isn’t quite over for the Busload of Books, Behr, Swanson and their family. They are stopping in Oregon, Washington, then ending their trip in Alaska.
“This has been such an amazing journey—being able to meet kids and see that they’re all awesome,” Behr said.