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About two dozen third-graders lined up outside of Madison’s Sandburg Elementary School early Monday afternoon, waiting to enter a yellow book bus parked outside.

Inside the bus, hundreds of free books sat on shelves. Outside, drums and chairs sat in a circle for the students to bang on and dance to.

“We have a surprise for you ... every single person is going to get on this bus and pick out a book to keep forever and ever,” Giving Tree Music founder Steve Turner told the anxious third-graders. “I want you to pick out a book. ... make sure it’s one you love.”

The group of third-graders — and other students throughout the morning at the Far East Side school — were allowed to pick out a book before banging on drums and dancing to the sound of their music as part of Bess the Book Bus’ nationwide tour stop in Madison.

The students, five at a time, stepped into the van and looked through the traveling library’s selection. The students asked adults questions about the selections, including whether there were any Goosebumps books to pick out.

While there were no Goosebumps books on the bus, the collection included long chapter books, shorter books filled with illustrations, books with TV and movie characters, and nonfiction books about famous athletes and caring for pet mice and rats.

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After picking out their books, and before the drum circle commenced, many of the third-graders paged through their selections or discussed them with classmates while others gathered around Miss Wisconsin McKenna Collins.

The nonprofit Madison Reading Project partnered with Collins, the book bus and Giving Tree Music on the event.

The bus also stopped at Bloom Bake Shop Monday for a Madison Reading Project book drive fundraiser.

Sandburg Elementary was selected to host the bus because of the high numbers of low-income students at the school that might otherwise have limited access to books outside of the classroom, said Carrie Castree, Madison Reading Project outreach director.

Reading — and having access to books — is important for academic success, she said.

“All we really want to do is get books into kids’ hands,” Castree said. “Reading is going to take kids to places they may otherwise not be able to escape to.”

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