By summertime, students at East Lake Elementary School will have their own "Biblioburro," created and designed by themselves.
The Biblioburro project was one of Causeway's Civic Engagement Challenge winners this year. It was inspired by the work of Luis Soriano, a teacher-turned-librarian who travels to rural Colombian schools by donkey, delivering books to children.
The East Lake Biblioburro will be a wooden cart, designed to look like a donkey, that will carry between 10 and 20 books — both in English and Spanish — and art supplies around the community. Its goal is to get local children excited about reading and writing their own stories.
Students at East Lake are reading a book called "Waiting for the Biblioburro," and early last week, Soriano visited the school to read the book to them. He read a Spanish version of the book while art teacher Audrey Menard read in English.
Though the book is based on Soriano's life as the traveling librarian, he had not read it because copies the author sent were stolen.
As he read to the children, Soriano moved around the room, making sound effects and voice-acting; he even lay on the floor with them as they listened intently.
Menard joked after the reading that some children were surprised to know the book was written about a real person, someone who was still alive.
Apart from reading "Waiting for the Biblioburro," students are working on several art projects around the book in preparation for the cart to be built.
"We're really encouraging our kids to find their own voice and their own ability to tell their own stories," Menard said. "Their stories are worth hearing, and they have that strength and force of character to share that."
In addition to the cart, minilibraries will be installed in various businesses and small free libraries set up in different neighborhoods.
"We really want to blanket this community for our kids to see what it looks like for a community to support [reading]," Menard said.
Menard said she hopes the Biblioburro will be ready by the time of the Book Fiesta, the school's final celebration of the year. She hopes the mini- and free libraries will be up in time for assigned summer reading.
In Dalton, Ga., schools literacy coordinatory Alice Ensley has started her own Biblioburro-inspired program.
"We know a lot of families who don't have access to the library," Ensley said. "Some of them, their parents can't take them. I thought: I can put books in my car and travel to children."
So she started the Big Red READS program. The idea, she said, was to take books to sites where children go to get free or reduced-price lunches during the summer.
"I knew children would be at those sites," she said.
She takes books on the appropriate reading levels, and the children are able to check the books out and even keep some.
Back at East Lake, Menard said part of what they love about Soriano's philosophy is finding solutions to community problems.
"[Problem-solving] is what he wants to impart to the kids," she said.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.