- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - Jennifer Frances knelt down to talk with the boy looking over the selection of books on the shelf.

“What do you like?” she asked. “Star Wars? We have books on Star Wars.”

She turned to a little girl standing nearby.

“Do you like princesses? Yes, we have ‘Frozen.’”

Frances was at Sherman Avenue Elementary Monday with her friend, Bess.

Bess is an interesting lady, decked out in yellow and white with her black glasses and red lips, and when she comes to visit, she throws opens her doors and invites children to partake of the treasures she holds.

Bess is a book bus, or rather a special Mercedes van packed with shelves of books for children to select, take home and keep and read whenever they wish.

Frances is the founder and president of Bess the Book Bus, a nonprofit organization she began to spread the joy of reading.

She’s Bess’ owner, driver and the person who keeps Bess’ shelves full.

“This is our third to last stop,” she said while taking a break between visits by the school’s students in kindergarten through third grade. “We have two trips a year, one in late summer and another in spring. By the time we’re through, we’ll have seen 30,000 kids and given away 60,000 books.”

Frances, who lives in Tampa said she started Bess as a nonprofit organization after she was unable to find a program in where she could do volunteer work.

“I began thinking about needs, what I could do to give back, and I thought about reading,” she said. “Growing up, we didn’t have much money, and reading was a way for me travel to other places and see other things without leaving home or spending money,” she said. “And there’s always the need to improve children’s ability to read and help them build their own libraries.”

Bess, she said, was her grandmother’s name, “My Nana. I had a niece who couldn’t say ‘Bess,’ and it would come out ‘Nana Bus.’”

Frances’ program is sponsored in part by Citgo Petroleum Corp. through its “Fuel Education” program, and in 2012 Mercedes Benz provided a new van.

“It’s a way for us to give back to the community,” said Mark Gehris, Cito Terminal manager at the Port of Vicksburg. “We are also a corporate sponsor for the school. Each year we give the third-graders and school supplies, we’ve given third-graders books, and we just helped them with their party last week.”

The selection of books ranges from pre-kindergarten to middle school. Some of the books include CDs to help children read and learn, and other packages feature multiple books.

The popular titles vary, Frances said.

“We have a partnership with Disney, so we get a lot of Disney titles,” she said. “‘Frozen’ is still popular, and anything with princesses; scary books are popular, and Harry Potter.”

Sheila Scott, Sherman Avenue librarian, said Bess’ visit and the books she gives out will help the students keep up their reading during the summer.

“It will help develop a love of reading and allow them to start their own libraries at home,” she said. “It will give them a very important start for the next school year; we don’t want them to lose what did this school year during the summer.”

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Information from: The Vicksburg Post, https://www.vicksburgpost.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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