Let's take a ride on the Bookmobile

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Lisa Schmelz | August 9, 2015

DELAVAN — It is 1 p.m. on Thursday, July 30, and a large cargo van is pulling into the parking lot at Veterans Park in Delavan. Near the rear doors, simple magnetic signs proclaim the van's mission: “Delavan-Darien Bookmobile — Let's Read,” with a bespectacled green bookworm propped against a stack of books doing just that.

A man, who carries a clipboard to meticulously track data, and woman step out of the van and begin setting up for what will hopefully become a steady stream of customers. However, the scorching sun and humidity leads them to believe business at this — or any of the other seven planned stops — will be anything but booming. Just when the couple thinks their stop is for not, 5-year-old Charlotte Otto comes running toward them, her school-issued bookmobile bag in hand, trailed by her mom, Cassandra Anderson.

“Guess what?” Charlotte asks, breathless as she arrives at the van

“What?” ask the couple in unison.

“We've missed, like, five bookmobiles,” she replies.

“That's OK,” says the woman. “We're glad you made it today.”

Inside her bag, Charlotte is returning books from her last visit to the bookmobile. The Man with the Clipboard, a volunteer who also is a principal at a local middle school, asks Charlotte what school she attends.

“I'm in Miss Nava's school,” she says.

“But what school is that?” he asks.

“It's Miss Nava's,” she says, slightly irritated he doesn't know this basic fact and peering at the thousands of books behind him.

The Man with the Clipboard appears as confused as the Man in the Yellow Hat, who thought it would be a good idea to take a monkey from Africa into his home.

“Miss Nava's school is Turtle Creek Elementary,” offers the woman by his side in the bookmobile adventure. “She teaches pre-K.”

After finding the right page, The Man with the Clipboard continues his inquisition.

“So were the books you have in your bag too hard, too easy or just right?” he asks.

“Too easy,” shouts Charlotte, now making eye contact with him and clearly proud to make that declaration.

“Well, let's move you up a level,” says The Man with the Clipboard.

Though he lets Charlotte aboard the bookmobile, The Man with the Clipboard isn't done with his audit. He plucks a book from the Level 2 bin and asks Charlotte to read a few pages, which she does flawlessly.

“You are ready to move up,” confirms The Man with the Clipboard.

Finally, he leaves Charlotte to do what she came to do: Choose some more books. Eventually, Charlotte makes her selections, and as she exits, Kylee Falk, who will be in first grade at Turtle Creek Elementary in the fall, approaches with her mom, Ami Falk. Like nearly every child encountered at the bookmobile, Kylee's parents also take her to the local library. Still, she loves Thursdays because that's when the bookmobile rolls.  

“I think it kind of like has a whimsical factor,” says Ami, as the Man with the Clipboard puts Kylee through the same drill as Charlotte in an effort to advance reading skills during the summer, a time when many students regress. “It kind of comes to you. It makes her feel special.”

All over Delavan and Darien — at apartment complexes, parks, school playgrounds and church parking lots — hundreds of children and their parents feel equally special. At Pioneer Estates, a crowd of 20-some children, their mothers and older siblings wave frantically when the bookmobile makes a wrong turn.  

“Bookmobile! Bookmobile! Bookmobile!” they chant, as one young boy breaks from the group, motioning for them to loop back around to the office of the mobile home park.

“They're chanting for books, they're waiting for books,” says the woman next to The Man with the Clipboard.

The Man with the Clipboard  is behind the wheel, and the clipboard is behind his seat. Smiling, he has stopped caring about data. He, too, gets the holiness of the moment.

“It's pretty awesome, isn't it? They are waiting in this heat for books,” he says. “Who says kids don't read anymore? Our kids do.”
The author, Lisa Schmelz is a teacher at Delavan-Darien High School and a freelance journalist. The Man with the Clipboard is her husband, Hank Schmelz, the principal of Phoenix Middle School in Delavan. They are two of dozens of Delavan-Darien School District employees who volunteer to staff the bookmobile in the summer.

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