Guest Post: THE WEB GROWS by Jennifer Frances


A guest post from Jennifer Frances, founder of Bess the Book Bus


For the release of their new novel, BOOMERANG, Lorin and Veronica Rossi hosted a book launch, writing workshop and fundraiser. The events raised $2,100 in charitable funds, which went to Tampa-based literacy organization Bess the Book Bus. The organization's founder, Jennifer Frances, shared a few words with us about her experience with the book launch event and the importance of a supportive literary community.


I was astonished when I heard Lorin and Veronica wanted to include Bess the Book Bus in the book launch and writing workshop by making it a fundraiser. To be made a part of something that important—the launch of an author's first book—is really special. I don't know if any other author has ever done that—for anyone. That is a day an author works toward their entire lives. I am so appreciative.


It felt very surreal being there. Out of all of the organizations they could have chosen, they chose Bess? How incredible is that? And they chose their local independent bookseller, Inkwood Books, as the book-signing venue. That is another important aspect of the event—not only did it bring awareness and financial support to a local non-profit, but it did the same for Inkwood Books. And thanks to Lorin and Veronica, over three-thousand kids will get brand new books.


I believe the most important things happen at the community level, and Lorin and Veronica helped create a web. They helped Bess the Book Bus through raising awareness and financial support, and they did the same for their local bookseller. They also supported a nearby restaurant, Ceviche, where the after-party was held.


They made it possible for people who otherwise might not have been able to attend a writing worship of this caliber to be able to do so. They made it affordable for everyone by making it donation based, and those who attended became part of the web of people supporting their community. A friend of mine attended, and she said it was a phenomenal workshop. 


Events like these create awareness and often encourage others to start something they have been dreaming of or to join existing efforts. And so the web grows. Several people have contacted me over the years to say that they decided to start their literacy outreach after seeing Bess succeed. I am still in touch with a few of these people, and they are making it, too. Without the exposure that local events bring, Bess would not have made it and couldn't continue to grow.


In addition to all of that, Lorin put me in touch with authors across the USA. These authors are already offering book donations and possible support. Now, the web that began when our hairdresser introduced us is stretching nationwide. Lorin also helped me connect with Scholastic, who is now donating books to Bess.  I've tried to get their attention for ten years with no success, but one email from her made it happen. Bess has received over eight-hundred new books this year from Scholastic, and there is another shipment coming. They ship them to cities on our trip route, so we have received deliveries in FL, TX, CA, NV, and MI.


Bess the Book Bus and other literacy organizations are more than their simple mission statement. Sure, we're building home libraries and creating a love for reading, which opens new worlds. But we're also there to set an example and show kids across the USA than there is more out there and that just one person can make a difference.


Kids often tell me that I have the "coolest job" when they learn we travel all across the USA giving away books. I tell them I made mine up and they can do the same. I tell them that it's hard work, but worth it. I tell them I believe in them, that they can do whatever they choose to do if they put in the work and fight to make it happen.


They get to see that Bess started from a simple idea I had in my dining room. They see that a kid who grew up in a family without much money and without a lot of resources—a kid a lot like them—was able to find a way to live her dream. I let them know that they can do that, too. They can make a difference. They have a purpose of their own, and they should trust themselves and follow their instincts. I tell them they are needed.


Community organizations also show kids that people out there care about them and believe in them. That we will fight for them.  One of the most important things that happens aboard Bess the Book Bus is the one-on-one time we get with kids. They have someone there to listen to them. To take their ideas about what they like and want seriously. They get to tell us what they like to read and why. They tell us what they want to do when they grow up.


Maybe now they see that there are more options. I tell them that if they have something they want to do with their lives, they can. They are important. They are smart. And I'm sure this happens in other literacy and community organizations, too. 


One of Bess' first kids is now a volunteer. He will be eighteen in December and will be coming along on the 2015 nationwide trip.


And so the web grows.