Book-loving Tampa, Fla., resident Jennifer Frances stopped at locations in Buffalo on Tuesday to read aloud to children and distribute free books to kids ranging in age from babies to teenagers.
"Bess the Book Bus," a literacy-themed volunteer project that Frances began in Florida 10 years ago, made its second stop in Western New York this week, after a first visit to the region last year.
The bus stopped at a residential treatment program run by Child & Family Services on Delaware Avenue on Tuesday afternoon.
After a short reading by Frances from a popular kids book by John Perry called "The Book That Eats People," children and young adults were allowed to board the bus and select a free book of their own to keep.
"They get to come on up and pick whichever book they want," said Frances.
Earlier in the day, the Book Bus had visited the Belle Center on the Lower West Side, where about 70 to 80 young people turned out, said Frances.
Around the country, about 400,000 books have been given away to children, all for free, over the 10 years that Bess the Book Bus - named for Frances' grandmother, who read to her as a child - has been on the road, Frances said.
By the end of this year, the bus will have visited 48 states, she said.
"For some kids - kids as old as 14 - this is their first book, ever," said Frances, 41, who was working in apartment management before she started the reading bus. "It still saddens me, because it doesn't seem possible."
"I grew up without a lot of money - but there were always books."
Frances will make one more stop Wednesday before continuing her travels around the country with the Book Bus - which was recently replaced by a 2011 vehicle donated by Mercedes, the Tampa resident said.
At the Child & Family Services Residential Treatment Program stop, Frances was expected to meet with about 50 youngsters.
Frances said the reactions that come from children allowed to select a book of their very own are wide-ranging - and heart-warming.
"Some kids do a little book dance - they are just so excited to go and read it," she said. "I've had kids clutch and run - because they are afraid I'm going to change my mind."
But there are poignant moments as well, she said.
"I had one kid crying, and he said to me, 'I can't get a book, my mom doesn't get paid until Friday.' And I told him, 'Oh no, sweetie, this book is free.' And he just looked and me and said, 'Really?' "
The books on the bus come from a variety of sources, Frances said, including donations from nonprofit organizations and publishers.