Book Bus Visits Westwood Elementary

Thunder Players Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey encourage kids at Westwood Elementary to read.

With March going out like a lamb on Friday afternoon, the first-graders at Westwood Elementary in southwest Oklahoma City had probably been wishing all day that they could have class outside.

That wish, and a few more, were granted as the Rolling Thunder Book Bus pulled up to their school, taking them outside the school building and into a world of books and Thunder fun.

Boarding the Book Bus, students received a Thunder bracelet and a high-five from center Nazr Mohammed, then walked back into a showroom of 3,000 books to be guided through selecting some of their own to take home by Nick Collison and Royal Ivey.

"It's definitely great, encouraging kids to read," said Mohammed. "I have young kids, and we do that at home. It's great they get a chance to come out here and pick their own books – books that they like and they want to read.

"The funny part is they're more happy to see the books than us," he smiled.

Though the Book Bus hits the road nearly every weekday and the players come back for multiple visits, the program doesn't stay the same.

"It's a new experience every time," said Ivey of the Book Bus visits.

"You're engaging with a different group of kids – the younger kids are shy," he noted about Friday's first-graders. "It's fun; I'm glad I'm a part of it."

After just over three years on the road, the Book Bus program marked a milestone during the visit, giving away its 50,000th book to one of the students. The student selected "Blueberries for Sal," an award-winning story by Robert McCloskey, as the landmark title.

"It's a ' (day)," said Roy Bishop of American Fidelity Assurance Company, the program's sponsor. "It touches our hearts because it's about kids getting books; it's about opening up opportunities for them through reading, and we're proud to be a part of that with the Thunder."

Once the children left the bus, they had some time to sit on the grass and leaf through their chosen books, exploring new worlds and comparing selections with their friends.

First-grade teacher Lisa Mitchell said the school works hard to keep kids engaged in reading, and the excitement of the Thunder players visiting helps sustain kids' enthusiasm for books.

"We ask that they read every night, and we send reading logs home," she stated. "It's really important for these guys to have books at home, so I think they'll enjoy them."

Thunder players hope that the impact of the visit lasts more than just for one sunny afternoon.

"I think it's a really good thing that the organization does, to encourage kids to read on their own," Collison said. "If they can master that at a young age, then it'll help them throughout their schooling career … They'll be able to study better and comprehend (more) later in their lives if reading becomes easy …

"The city's been great to us; the fans have been great to us. For us to have an opportunity to give back to the people in the community is a good thing," he concluded.

The Rolling Thunder Book Bus, presented by American Fidelity Assurance Company, visits schools and community programs throughout the metro area. Since 2009, the Thunder has distributed over 50,000 free books through the Book Bus program as a part of the team's ongoing commitment to education and literacy. For more information on this program, please CLICK HERE.