That’s because the public buses in Albuquerque all include a cubby full of children’s books. The books are part of the city’s Discover a Book program that was started more than a decade ago in an effort to help improve reading skills among Albuquerque’s youngest residents. The program is part of the city’s larger Read To Me book donation program, according to Nick Manole, marketing specialist for the city’s ABQ Ride department and president of the Read to Me program committee.
The Read to Me program holds a book drive every winter and distributes those books not only to the ABQ Ride department but to local nonprofits, schools with large numbers of low-income students and homeless shelters. Manole said this year they collected approximately 60,000 books. About 8,000 of those books will go to the bus reading program, according to volunteer Kathy Chilton.
She has been working with the program since its inception. She said the books make the ride more fun and less daunting for parents who may have a restless child.
“Discover a Book gives parents the opportunity to interact with their children in a positive way,” Chilton said in an email interview from England. “Several studies have shown that the greatest measure of future success in school is access to books.”
Manole became involved with the program in 2007, a year after it started. He said while growing up books were his best friend and he wants all children to have a chance to experience books from a young age. Some families, he said, might not be able to afford books or have access to a library because they lack transportation.
“The thought was that we know there are lower income families riding the bus,” he said. “The benefit is they (the books) are at your fingertips. It’s an easy way to access reading and learning.”
Children can read the books while on the bus or take them home. The book are restocked about once a week. Manole said the simple concept has made the program a success and that he’s even gotten calls from officials in other cities.
“We’ve had other bus agencies call us and ask how we do it,” he said. “They want to do it too.”
Bus driver Cynthia McCleary said she likes having the books on the bus and will sometimes even leave a few on the seats to encourage more children to pick one up. She said she’s even seen high school students take books. She said she’s noticed some of her routes in the center of town have more children than usual. On the days she drives those routes, she stocks up on extra books.
“It’s a good management tool,” she said. “Some of these routes are long and have traffic back-ups causing delays. It keeps the children occupied.”
While the program was started to help children, they aren’t the only ones enjoying the books, Chilton said.
“We have also heard of adults who have taught themselves to read using the picture books on the bus,” Chilton said. “And, of adults learning more English when their children read the bus books to them.”
Although the book drive has ended for the year, Manole said residents can still donate new or gently used books to local store Page One Books, 5850 Eubank NE, and Title Wave Books, 2318 Wisconsin NE.
“There is much to be done in New Mexico to improve families’ possibilities of success,” Chilton said. “Discover a Book is a simple, inexpensive, and significant step toward that goal.”