Russ the Story Bus – our magical library on wheels – has wrapped up his tour of Western Sydney and the Northern Rivers of NSW! Over 10 weeks, Russ travelled across the state to visit 53 schools. From Mount Druitt to Lismore, writers and illustrators hopped aboard Russ to share their work with over 10,000 primary students across the state and each of those students got to take a book off the shelves of Russ to keep forever. Watch highlights from the tour in our video and see how a visit from Russ the Story Bus sparks a love of reading in students.
Highlights from writers
I live in the Northern Rivers and have many friends and family affected by the floods – some who are still displaced. All of the students we visited on Russ the Bus would have been affected by the floods in some way, but particularly three schools we focused on whose campuses were completely destroyed. The impact of a visit from Russ on these students in particular cannot be underestimated. The joy of the children when they were given free books, and the appreciation of their teachers and support staff, was palpable. I’ll always feel grateful to Russ for focusing on these communities who are feeling increasingly forgotten as time passes.
I visited Lismore Public last year, just a few months after the big flood. Things were really tough for those kids and teachers, many of whom lost everything. A year later, we pulled up in Russ, and boy, were those kids excited to see us! We set up my signing table under a big tree and the kids swarmed around us, nursing their precious books. I know without certainty that these kids will remember Russ long after he drove away.
I've lived in Alstonville for over thirteen years yet had never been to the local school. With Russ, I got to meet every kid in the school. Sport fans. Music fans. Book fans. When the rain started, they pulled their beanbags under my signing shelter so I sat amongst twenty kids squished around me, all holding their new books above their heads. We talked about favourite hobbies and books and authors. "Who's your favourite author?" I asked one soccer fiend. "You," he said promptly, even though we'd only met that morning. Meeting the author gives a whole new dimension to the reading experience.
One boy – at a school where a third of the kids lost everything in the Lismore floods – asked me, "When do I have to bring this book back?" "You don’t," I said. "It’s yours forever." He almost couldn’t believe it. "Really!?" At morning teatime, he brought his lunchbox and book to a table near me, and quietly read his book, looking over every now and again with a huge grin. It filled my heart. My week with Russ the Bus was utterly magical.
After giving my presentation about neurodiversity and the impact it has had on my life as a writer, child after child stood up to spontaneously to share an experience they’d had of feeling different or challenged. The atmosphere in the room felt electric with excitement, as well as connection and trust, as I saw them connecting with their own potential and capability, and most importantly, their own story. Later, as I sat with each child discussing the book they’d chosen from Russ’s magical interior, a number of teachers came up to me to tell me how important that moment had been, because no one had ever spoken about that before with them, and they’d never heard the children share like that. I felt so privileged to have been a part of that.