Booking It To Help Children

This story originally aired May 22, 2009.

She cashed in her 401K to do something fulfilling with her life.

And it all started with a 1972 Volkswagen bus named "Bess."

"Bess the Book Bus" is a gateway to reading for underprivileged and inner-city kids in Tampa, Fla. that 38-year-old Jennifer Frances started in 2002.

Since then, Frances has gone through a few "Bess" buses, but has distributed thousands of books to thousands of Tampa-area children, from kindergarten-to-high school, giving almost 40,000 new books each year to schools, community centers and shelters. And her non-profit literacy program continues to grow.

But relying on government grants and corporate sponsorships to keep the bus going has been a struggle.

"This year, because of the financial situation," Frances told Early Show co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, "there is so much competition for resources; we did run out of books."

Still, "Bess the Book Bus" keeps on rolling, despite challenges.

"This has been such a gift to be able to do this with my life," she said. "I realize now that it's also a responsibility of mine, beause these kids do expect and do depend on this."

On Tampa girl said, "(The book bus) means a lot to me, because I don't have books at home to read and I was dying for this 'Twilight' book."

"I love (Jennifer)," another girl said in Tampa, "and I love her books."

Frances will continue her work this summer by bringing the joy of reading to young readers all over the country.

Her van will tour 45 cities to give over 11,000 books to children.

And for her outreach, Frances was named an "Early's Angel" on The Early Show on Friday.

She was awarded several gifts to continue her work:

  • Ford senior designer Chiwei Lee gave Frances a new van she can customize, a Ford Transit Connect. The van features bookshelves, desks, a flat-screen monitor, DVD player, and kid-friendly alphabet carpeting.

  • Connie Falvo, of Transitions Optical, announced Transitions will sponsor a school in Tampa that Jennifer visits regularly, Westshore Elementary. She said they'll give all the students eye exams and eyewear over the next school year in Jennifer's honor.

  • Sears spokesman Jim Kiernan also gave Frances a laptop computer and video camera, so she can document her travels as she goes across the country in her present book bus.

  • Amazon.com also awarded Frances with two Kindles for "Bess the Book Bus."

  • Also in honor of Frances, book publishers Penguin, Macmillan, Abrams Books, Candlewick Press, and Simon & Schuster and Scholastic donated copies of their hottest summer books, so each child on the plaza Friday morning could have a new book.

    Simon & Schuster is part of the CBS Corproation, as is CBSNews.com.



    For more on the books given away on The Early Show, click here.