Visit any school or public library in our area and you’ll see books with a unique round sticker on the front cover. “Book Buzz Pick,” the stickers read, alongside a perky bee with red specs and toe-bulging-blue shoes.
Meet Newsbee — oh, you probably already have. He debuted in The Missourian a decade ago, on Sept. 7, 2002.
Newsbee is the mascot for Book Buzz, a youth literacy project responsible for placing more than 10,000 quality hardcover books on the shelves of school and public libraries in Augusta, Beaufort, Campbellton, Catawissa, Concord Hill, Dutzow, Gerald, Labadie, Marthasville, New Haven, Pacific, Robertsville, St. Clair, Union, Villa Ridge and Washington.
Each month, worker bees at The Missourian’s downtown Washington office package 115 Book Buzz Books bound for 40 school and public libraries. The books are delivered with classroom newspapers through the Missourian In Education program.
“Looking back it’s incredible to see how Book Buzz has blossomed, all because of giving people who’ve provided funds to help us purchase the books for the schools,” said Chris Stuckenschneider, who coordinates Book Buzz, along with Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian.
“Initially, Newsbee was just a black and white book recommendation column in the newspaper, but now he’s Technicolor and even has a fuzzy, buzzy bee costume. He has made innumerable school visits and is a regular on the parade circuit,” Stuckenschneider added.
Newsbee’s literary reach extends beyond its contributions to the libraries. Thousands of additional books have been donated throughout the community and beyond.
Many of these books are given away at the Run to Read, are tucked into baskets at Family Reading Night or handed out in drawings at The Missourian’s Reader Recognition Night at the Washington Town & Country Fair. Other books are donated and distributed to additional organizations and causes.
“Most people don’t realize the connections Chris has made with major book companies,” Kitchell said. “Publishers from New York to Chicago appreciate the importance of what we’re doing here and send hundreds of books to The Missourian each year to be considered as Book Buzz Picks.”
Though Book Buzz was created in Washington, its buzz has spread across the United States. In 2003 The Missourian began offering the column through the Missouri Press Association. Today, about 15 newspapers around the country share Newsbee’s Picks in their communities.
“We have been running the ‘Picks’ and ‘Reviews’ in our newspaper since September of 2005,” said Laurel Gardner with the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass., noting that teachers of all grades send her positive feedback on Book Buzz and their comments reflect the value of the program for including both recommendations for reading and a publishing opportunity.
“This past school year, Monday was the most frequent day selected by teachers who chose to have a once-weekly delivery of papers,” Gardner said. “Monday was our Book Buzz day; you can draw your own conclusions!”
Over the years, local teachers and librarians have grown to appreciate Book Buzz because the program “introduces students to good literature,” said Michelle Ming, second-grade teacher at St. Francis Borgia Grade School.
“Oftentimes the literature used in my first-grade classroom is needed to provide information, or to read and answer comprehension questions. Even though I read aloud often, the students are excited once a month to share the Book Buzz selections and have the chance to just enjoy and discuss a book that ‘won’t be on the test.’ ”
Ming has been an active supporter of Book Buzz since its inception, Stuckenschneider said, but some librarians are new to the area, like Amy Reed, who is starting her second year as librarian with the Meramec Valley School District.
“The selection of books for each month are outstanding picture books, nonfiction books and fiction titles, with many new titles but some classics as well. The students enjoy having new books and these books help add to our library collections,” Reed said.
Once the Book Buzz books are delivered to the schools, students are invited to give their feedback on the Picks. They have six weeks to read a Book Buzz book and send a review to The Missourian. One review for each monthly Pick is published in The Missourian with others appearing online at emissourian.com.
“Last year was the first year I committed to reading the Newsbee Pick of the month books and I am so glad I did,” said LuAnn Engelbrecht, fifth-grade teacher at Clearview Elementary. “Reading aloud is the highlight of my students’ day, and I will admit, mine too. The time to just sit back and listen to a good story has had such a positive impact on my students.”
Another mission of Book Buzz is to offer students the opportunity to meet authors and illustrators — to see that they aren’t just names on the covers of books, but real people with a passion for reading and creativity.
“In 2003 The Missourian began introducing area children to the people behind the monthly Picks. We’ve had visits from some of the most talented writers and illustrators in the children’s book publishing industry,” said Kitchell. “And our community has always been willing to help fund the honorariums and travel expenses to bring these folks to town.”
Derek Anderson, the New York Times bestselling artist of 20 books for children, visited Washington in 2008 to share his book, “Gladys Goes Out to Lunch,” a February 2008 Book Buzz Pick.
“In January, I flew to Washington, Mo., to speak at two schools and the public library as a part of the Book Buzz program. I had an absolute blast in Washington. It’s a fun, little town just outside St. Louis, and make no mistake about it — they take reading seriously there,” Anderson commented on his website after his visit.
Deborah Hopkinson is one of a handful of authors who has made repeat visits to Washington. Hopkinson was the featured author at the 2009 Family Reading Night and returned this fall for a program hosted by the Friends of the Washington Library on her book, “Annie and Helen,” a September 2012 Book Buzz Pick.
“What an amazing program — and community. It was such a pleasure to visit the Washington Library last month,” Hopkinson said. “I think Book Buzz and The Missourian’s dedication to literacy are shining examples of the impact that dedicated individuals and community members can have on a large scale. At a time when newspapers nationwide are cutting their coverage of literacy and books, Book Buzz and everyone who makes this happen every year are to be congratulated.”
Authors have been incorporated into nearly all of the community family events sponsored by The Missourian. On Oct. 13, Ann Malaspina will speak at the annual Run to Read about her book, “Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper.” And on March 1, Kenneth Kraegel will share his book, “King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson,” at Family Reading Night.
Hopkinson and several other authors who have visited Washington over the past decade, including Marla Frazee, will be a part of a Book Buzz anniversary celebration Sunday, Sept. 30, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the Washington Public Library. The public is invited to Newsbee’s party, which will recognize the organizations, businesses and individuals who have helped make “Ten Years — 10,000 Books” possible.
“There have been so many people over the years who have helped grow Book Buzz — people and groups who have funded book donations, author visits and special projects; librarians who have shared the books with children and teachers; people who have come to hear authors and participate in our events; parents and grandparents who have made trips to the library to check out Book Buzz Picks and snuggled up with children to read them, and the children who read and write about the Book Buzz Picks,” Kitchell said. “How do you even begin to thank so many people for supporting a project that means so much to us?”
Kitchell and Stuckenschneider said the Sept. 30 celebration is a way to try to show The Missourian’s appreciation. Like any good birthday party, there will be treats — cupcakes, lemonade, balloons and a special presentation the two have worked on. The Missourian also will be giving a gift to the community and library.
The birthday bee will be there to help thank everyone who attends — a brief diversion from his new mission — 10 more years of spreading his love for reading across the area.