Saturday, 11 June 2016

Tom Maschler: The man behind the Book Bus

Founder of the Book Bus: Tom Maschler
As part of our 10th anniversary celebrations, we are sharing the stories of some of the people who have joined us on our journey. Our first feature tells the story of Book Bus Founder, Tom Maschler. 

Tom Maschler’s career in publishing spanned over 50 years. As editorial director at Jonathan Cape publishers he discovered and published some of the best known authors in the world including Ian McEwan, Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  He persuaded the Booker brothers to create the Booker Prize (now the Man Booker Prize) to celebrate the very best in literature. He’s a man that clearly spots an opportunity and gets things done. 

"I had spent my life surrounded by authors, illustrators and books and as retirement approached I began to think about what was next," explained Tom as he settled down for a chat about how he founded the global literacy charity, The Book Bus. 

"I still had lots of energy and drive. Throughout my career I had always wanted to do some kind of charitable work but never seemed to have the time. Then as my retirement approached my wife, Regina sparked an idea in my head and that propelled me into action."

She told me: "You’ve spent your whole life surrounded by books. You’ve always wanted to do something of value in Africa. Now is the time. Why not share your love of books with people that don’t have any?" 

This stirred something inside Tom and inspired him to carry out his wish. 

"I began to think about all the children who’d never had the opportunity to hold a book, to look at beautiful illustrations and never had the chance to learn how to read. I began to think about all the lost opportunities that would mean for these children. I knew this was the time for me to do something that would help." 

Tom’s idea was simple enough: buy a bus, fill it with children’s books and bring it to a place where children don’t have any books at all. 

That was back in 2006 and ten years later Tom's idea is now a successful literacy development programme operating across four continents and six countries.
Tiger the 1st Book Bus in Zambia 

The Book Bus now has five mobile Book Bus libraries working in impoverished communities in Ecuador, Malawi and Zambia, bringing books and the joy of reading to over 150,000 children. It builds static libraries and reading corners in schools and employs local teams as reading champions who help spread a reading culture in their local area.  

How it started  

"I flew to Zambia with a colleague to do a bit of research about how a Book Bus might be received. I knew there was a need for books, but would a Bus be the right way to introduce books to local communities?" 

Tom’s concerns soon disappeared as support for his Book Bus idea grew and grew. 

"I was simply overwhelmed by the support I received from local communities, education representatives, church leaders and the government. I was confident that this project would work, so I returned to England to start making my dream a reality." 

Tom’s dream was to initially buy a double-decker bus. "Can you imagine that travelling through the streets of Lusaka? But I was (quite rightly) dissuaded against this and instead bought a single-decker Tiger Leyland bus. The idea was fill this with books and then ship it over to Zambia." 

Tom put out a call out to his hundreds of publishing colleagues for resources and the books came flooding in by the thousands. The bus seats were taken out and replaced with shelving to house the books.

Decorating the Book Buses 

“I absolutely had a sense that something wasn’t quite right as I looked at the bus – it was just an ordinary bus. I really wanted it to make an impact and then I had an idea to decorate it with beautiful illustrations that would be eye-catching and draw children to the bus." 

And who better to ask than the best children’s illustrator in the world Sir Quentin Blake? Tom’s instinctive talent for spotting literacy success brought Quentin Blake and children’s author Roald Dahl together in the 1970s to form one of the most successful partnerships that publishing has seen. 
Sir Quentin's illustrations adorn the Book Buses 

“Quentin was so pleased to be asked to decorate the Book Bus. He’s never provided artwork for a bus and was absolutely thrilled to take on the challenge. The illustrations Quentin created were simply beautiful and so perfect. They are bright, beautiful and each character has a secret story to tell that will enthuse and inspire curious children to step inside the Book Bus.” 

Tom’s life-long talent to make things happen didn’t stop there. "I wanted to make an impact and get as much publicity as possible for the Book Bus before it left the UK."  After many meetings and hours of negotiation Tom managed to persuade Westminster Council to allow the Book Bus to be driven onto Trafalgar Square for all to see before it set off for Zambia. 

"It was a great night bringing everyone together who had been so passionate about getting this project off the ground. Of course, being England, it poured with rain that night, but that didn’t stop our supporters from hopping on board our Book Bus to admire the thousands of books packed and ready for their journey to Zambia."
Book Bus Tiger in Trafalgar Square

In 2007 Tiger, the very first Book Bus was driven to Zambia to begin working as a mobile library. 

‘This was the time that I began to step back, the Book Bus became a charity and was run by a team of experts ensuring we brought the right books to the right communities, continued Tom. 

It wasn’t long before the second project was opened in Livingstone and then across the border in neighbouring country Malawi shortly followed by another two projects in Ecuador. 

As the project grew, so did the number of Book Buses all now named after Roald Dahl characters: Charlie, Matilda, George and Alfie. Since 2006 the Book Buses have travelled more than 250,000 miles working across four continents and five countries. Books have been placed in the hands of 150,000 children and they are now enjoying the rich experience that books and stories can bring.

Local & international volunteers 

"We’ve had so many reading volunteers from around the world who have joined the Book Bus in Ecuador, Malawi and Zambia, reading with children and having lots of fun. I visited the project in Livingstone myself and saw first-hand the joy, excitement and enthusiasm for the Book Bus as it rolls into a school. The children were running along side welcoming us. It was amazing to experience this." 
Volunteers from around the world help children to read

"I’m immensely proud of what the Book Bus has done. We’ve relied on the generosity of people who have donated their time, books and funds to get this project off the ground and to keep it going. These people understand the importance of literacy and reading and how being able to read really can change people’s lives." 

Nowadays Tom is still involved in the Book Bus as much as he can.  "Looking back some people said the Book Bus was a crazy idea, but it was a dream of mine and of course you should never give up on a dream,” he concludes.  

There’s no doubt 150,000 children out there who would agree with Tom…