For local librarian Louisa Whitfield-Smith, it’s all about connections.
How the library connects the community. How a story can connect people. How a shared moment can do both.
Whitfield-Smith, outreach librarian for the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, conceived Stories on the Bus, a monthlong program that does all of that and then some. Throughout June, local community leaders and athletes will surprise riders on the 101 bus route — which runs from the Legends Outlets Kansas City to downtown Kansas City, Mo. — by hopping on and reading stories aloud.
“We thought, ‘How can we reach as many people as possible in a way that gets people excited about life?’ ” Whitfield-Smith says of the program.
KCK Public Schools Superintendent Cynthia Lane told the first story on June 6, and baseball legend and Jackson County executive Frank White Jr. read the following week. Surprise readings will continue throughout the month.
The idea started with the 2016 Newbery Medal award-winning children’s book “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña. The 32-page children’s book takes the reader on a vibrant ride through a bustling city via the perspective of a little boy and his grandma.
But as Whitfield-Smith points out, it’s so much more.
“(CJ) is a boy out for a ride with his grandma, but the questions he asks along the way really get at profound issues of unity, class — all while he’s riding on a bus that’s a lot like our buses,” says Whitfield-Smith.
“I’ve read it so many times out loud that I’m used to the beat,” she says, “and I know where adults tear up.”
Her summer reading list
Whitfield-Smith has a soft spot for children’s books.
“My favorite kids’ books capture wonder as a child and reward adults who read (them), just like ‘Last Stop on Market Street.’ There’s a level it hits with kids and another it hits with adults.”
Her favorite childhood book? “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams.
She’s currently reading a prequel to “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” called “Bloodline.” The book by Claudia Gray is set roughly six years before the film.
Three others on her (partial) summer reading list are “A Place on Earth: A Novel” by Wendell Berry, “Mink River,” a Brian Doyle novel about life in a small fictional Oregon town, and “Homegoing: A Novel” by Yaa Gyasi, which traces 300 years of a family’s history from Ghana to America.
The last stop on this book-to-bus connection: The KCK Public Library’s second annual Library in the Park celebration Sept. 17 at Big Eleven Lake, which de la Peña plans to attend.
The event will feature music, face painting, free tacos and 1,000 free copies of “Last Stop on Market Street.” Fifty of them will have Braille overlays.
On Sept. 16, de la Peña will read the book to students from the KCK school district. The kiddos will see the book come to life as they board a bus at Quindaro Elementary School and ride to the KCK Main Library, 625 Minnesota Ave., as actors from KC MeltingPot Theatre play characters from the book.
“We wanted it to end in a celebration at the library,” says Whitfield-Smith. “That’s who we serve — the community beyond the bus.”