I've been working on three novels (two for kids, one for adults), and preparing for my next two nonfiction books. So, aside from my recent UK tour, I've been keeping to myself quite a bit.
But this weekend I returned from a week aboard Russ the Story Bus. Russ is an old city bus, repainted outside with illustrations and refurbished inside with shelves and benches and such. It's basically a travelling library, with one small difference: the kids get to keep the book they choose. Amazing.
We travelled to six primary schools in New South Wales' southern highlands and Canberra: Aurora, Amaroo, Miles Franklin, Ainslie, Caroline Chisolm, and Bonython.
The events began with exploration: the kids boarded the bus, and spent anything from twenty to forty minutes browsing the shelves and reading quietly. Sometimes giggling. Something yelling "THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE" or "BOOKS ARE THE BEST" or "DAMON YOUNG IS THE COOLEST".
Then I told a few jokes, held a quiz, told them about writing, showed them how to draw my magician mum, then read to them.
It was an absolute delight. The look of Russ is enough to raise smiles: bright paintings by Sophie Beer all around. But when they learn it's full of books? And then they learn they get to keep one? Much whooping and bouncing.
Russ the Buss is also one part of a much bigger project: encouraging literacy. Having books at home is a huge part of reading regularly and well, and parents can't always afford retail prices. Russ gets books into kids' hands, and makes reading part of a special day.
An excellent initiative from Sydney Writers Festival. Thanks to everyone involved, from the SWF team in the office and on the buss, to the teachers involved, to all the kids.