By Megan Sheehan
Photos by Maureen Tricase/Capture Your Moments Photography
There’s nothing quite as timeless as a book.
It seems rather simple, but in reality is anything but. Bound paper held tight by a spine, printed ink, pages and a story. For centuries, books have been the connecting dots of stories passed down through the generations. They are a portal to other worlds and places unknown. Books open up doors to endless ideas and concepts. They sit upon coffee tables, once empty shelves, nightstands, travel bags, classrooms, and even the loo.
But one place seems to be lacking these valuable commodities. Thankfully, someone noticed and is doing something about it.
Liverpool native Sue Straub has been an educator for 32 years in the North Syracuse school district and has stumbled upon a resounding issue many kids are facing: the absence of books in the home. Books are an adventure that should be a part of every childhood. For a child in this day to be without is nothing short of heartbreaking. Sue recalls a student with such a problem with tears in her eyes: “This is a child who is blossoming as a reader with no access to books.”
When Sue first realized this disheartening position, she jumped on what has become a bright solution.
“I haven’t traveled the world like other people have,” she said. “I’ve learned about world cultures. I’ve traveled through books. I think you can learn a lot from a book.”
Sue had often fantasized about starting a book mobile that would travel locally and bring books to kids. She and her husband brainstormed suddenly when her brother-in-law put a van up for sale, and an inspirational close family friend passed away.
That van served as an inspiration.
“You know, that van,” she remembered thinking. “I could do a book van with it.”
Sue and her husband bought the van and remodeled it complete with shelving units and tubs for organizing books by theme and topic. She also got full approval and support backing from the North Syracuse teachers’ union, the North Syracuse Education Association (NSEA). With that, Book Van-Go was ready to roll!
The wheels on the van had begun to turn, and the books started rolling in. Sue’s close friends and family, fellow teachers and educators would all bring her boxes of beautiful books as donations. Word began to spread. She began to network with bookstores and libraries to create a summer reading program, as they share a common goal.
“We all just want kids to read and find a love of reading,” Sue said.
Book Van-Go visits a series of parks in the summer. They pull up into their spot, place the “The Book Van is Here!” sign and kids will come running. Every week has a new theme. Some kids find a book, and go read instantly under a tree or on a bench. The regulars will check the request basket and see if the book they’ve yearned for has arrived. Sue is able to fulfill these wishes by creating an Amazon wish list for books kids have asked for, giving them a unique sense of a book club. The excitement for books and reading and enrichment are being embraced and encouraged.
The books have helped to unify a diverse group of kids from all over North Syracuse. Books can do that, Sue said.
“I just think we’re more alike than we are different,” she said.
Sue is incredibly humble in her project.
“I got it started, but I was just the one that got a van and everyone has filled that van,” she said.
As far as expanding goes, Sue would love to upgrade to a school bus which would allow for what would be more of a mobile shop. It would require less set up and would entail kids being able to go inside the bus to take a look around for their most perfect book.
Sue is hoping books stay alive and keep interest forever.
“I hope it’s a timeless activity,” she said. “I hope it’s not something that when I’m in my 80s it’s going to be hard to find books.”
Keep your eyes out for Book Van-Go this summer Tuesdays at Burnham Park in Mattydale, Wednesdays at Richfield Park and pool in Mattydale, and Thursdays at Kennedy Park in North Syracuse. Follow Book Van-Go on Facebook for more locations and special events.
If you’re interested in donating books or Amazon gift cards, message Book Van-Go through Facebook or drop your like new books age range pre-K through eighth grade at The North Syracuse Education Association at 210 S. Main Street Suite 203 in North Syracuse.