Some lucky elementary school students in Bath were greeted by new, bright-blue seats on their buses today. The new “seats” were really just covers, and the important part wasn’t their color, it was the pockets full of books on the back.

A new program started by the Patten Free Library hopes to give kids ages 5 to 9 that ride buses in Bath the chance to get invested in a new book each time they ride to and from school.

Kicking off today to coincide with Read Across America Day, the program started with one bus containing eight special seat covers.

“The goal is really to provide kids with convenient access to books,” said Sheryl Ritchie, literacy committee chair for the Bath Elementary PTA.

The idea came from seeing stories about a similar program started by Don Sanders, a bus driver for MSAD 75 in Topsham. He was recently given the Sarah Whitten Community Award for his efforts to put books into the hands of kids riding his bus.

“I remember reading about him two or three years ago and thinking, ‘oh, that’d be a great thing to do here in Bath,’” said Ritchie. The program has been a great success in Topsham, with multiple buses now participating with donated books.

“One of the things that really struck me about that program was some of the older kids would sit down with the younger kids and help them read their books, and help develop connections that way as well,” said Ritchie.

The idea came up once more last fall, and efforts began to launch the program in Bath. Ritchie went to Carol McFadden, head of children’s services at the Patten Free Library, to get the ball rolling.

“She was immediately on board,” said Ritchie. “Before I even finished my sentence talking about it, she was nodding her head.”

All of the books used in the program will be donated. That way, the books can be taken home by students if they happen to be engrossed in what they’re reading. “We will restock them as needed,” said Ritchie.

Using donated books allows the program to let kids take them home, and also keeps bus drivers from having to police their use. “They didn’t want to be responsible if books were being damaged or lost,” she said.

The seat covers the books are stored in were acquired thanks to a grant from Renys. A total of eight seat covers were installed in one bus, but there are plans for installing them in more.

“We’re really hoping by fall to have the remainder of the Bath area buses outfitted with the seat covers,” Ritchie said.

The program is always looking to acquire more books for children. “If anyone wants to donate books, we’re always accepting good condition books at the Patten Free Library Children’s room.”

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