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RPS Lit Limo helps students foster a love for reading

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As Richmond Public School students boarded the Lit Limo on Thursday morning, some asked for graphic novels and comic books, while others asked for books rooted in adventure or comedy.

The students also received a piece of Smarties candy and a pamphlet about coding.

During the summer, the Lit Limo — a library on wheels — visits Miles Jones Elementary every Thursday. Summer school students are able to receive free books to grow their own personal libraries.

“In school, students are told what to read ... but the love of reading really comes from having a choice of books. Part of the Lit Limo mission is to promote the love of reading,” said Judy Deichman, the instructional specialist for library media in RPS, in an interview.

“When they come on the bus, they request books ... [and] when they start asking for a particular book, that love is starting to be fostered. It is incredible to witness,” Deichman said.

The Lit Limo program faced a setback on June 29, when a newly renovated vehicle was destroyed in a two-alarm fire at a repairs and maintenance warehouse at 1903 Chamberlayne Ave., a facility the school division has leased for nearly 25 years. The new bus had cabinets, air conditioning and a wheelchair lift.

'Lit Limo' among RPS buses damaged in Wednesday's Chamberlayne Avenue fire

Until a new bus can be designated for Lit Limo, the program’s original bus is driving around the city for the summer and probably in the fall.

Lit Limo has books for students of all ages, ranging from baby books to books with chapters for high school students. The library also features bilingual books and books solely in Spanish. Deichman is looking to stock the bus with as many bilingual books as possible.

Deichman pioneered the Lit Limo two summers ago in the early months of the pandemic. First meant to tackle learning loss for students during the summer, the bus quickly transitioned into being a five-day operation during the school year after RPS announced the 2020-21 academic year would be virtual.

On Thursday, rising fourth- and fifth-graders from various RPS schools visited the mobile library during summer school at Miles Jones Elementary.

The students chose books including “Becoming Muhammad Ali,” “Stick Cat, Cats in the City,” “A Single Shard” and “Gabby Duran & the Unsittables: Alien Babysitting Adventures,” based on a Disney Channel TV show, “Gabby Duran & The Unsittables.”

One student chose classic “Beezus and Ramona,” part of the Ramona Quimby series, because her mom had read the book when she was around her age. A student who selected “Press Start Super Rabbit Boy Blast Off!” plans to read it to her younger sister. The small chapter book is part of the Press Start series.

After teaching various elementary grade levels at the former Clark Springs Elementary and at Miles Jones Elementary, Tiana Addai-Mensah earned her reading specialist certification and became a library media specialist for five RPS preschool centers.

As she taught younger grades and especially moving into preschool, Addai-Mensah came to the stark realization that children do not understand how to read books with care.

So she started teaching a lesson about caring for books.

She would take a baby doll and drop it on the floor, throw it across a classroom, eat over it and more.

The actions stunned her students. The point of the lesson was to showcase to students that while they know they can’t mishandle a baby, they also shouldn’t mishandle a book.

Addai-Mensah took her lesson a step further this month, as she independently published “A Book is Like a Baby,” a children’s book that asks questions like “Should you cut a baby with scissors?” paired with examples of mishandled books.

“It’s an important thing. They need to know about book care ... [because] they are going to deal with books for the rest of their lives,” Addai-Mensah said in an interview.

The goal of Lit Limo, Addai-Mensah said, is to help children build their own at-home libraries and have a love of books, “and then of course now we have a book to teach them about how to care for books.

“It is important for them to understand that literacy is important; it’s going to play a factor in their life forever,” Addai-Mensah said. “So why not start them now?

“Getting books and taking care of books.”

When school reopens in August, Deichman will take over the reins driving the bus five days a week.

The program’s books come from a mix of donations and grant funding. New and “gently loved” books are acceptable for donations. Those interested in contributing can email Deichman at jdeichma@rvaschools.net.

jnocera@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @jessmnocera

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