Thousands of children board a yellow school bus every week in Howard County, including Ellicott City sisters Renarda and Cypress Booker. After waving goodbye to their dad, Mark Booker, the Booker kids said, they boarded their buses to begin each school lesson with bus drivers.
In the family's first published children's book, "Why Our Teacher Wears Yellow," the father-daughter team brings attention to "transportation teachers" through four characters, who join Roodee the school bus in imaginative adventures on their way to School 224.
The book explores the imaginations of students Mary, Larry, Sherry and Berry as they ride the bus to school. During the ride, they imagine they're taking trips to places like the zoo, the White House and a muddy cornfield, where they apply educational lessons outside the classroom. The four students later share their experiences with three classmates who are unfamiliar with "the teacher who wears yellow."
"Each time the [four] students got on the bus, they knew they were going to school, but they imagined going to these places" thanks to Roodee, Booker said. "Young children are always imagining something."
During their first public reading in January at Barnes and Noble Booksellers in Ellicott City, Booker said they sold all 80 copies they had available. The family printed 3,000 copies for the first batch, which was published through an education services company called education that, llc, where Mark Booker is a managing partner.
The Booker clan said they drew from their own personal experiences aboard the yellow bus to create a story for children to highlight the importance of bus drivers. Both students, alongside their father, are co-authors of the book, which also includes an activities section with hand-drawn mazes, word match-up games and coloring pages designed by Renarda and Cypress.
Booker said the company provides early childhood, special education and teacher professional development programs to school districts across Howard and Baltimore counties as well as Baltimore City. The company recently opened its own publishing division, Booked Up Reading Publishers, to further the education of young children through literature.
"Why Our Teacher Wears Yellow" is the division's first publication.
Renarda, 14, and her sister, Cypress, 11, said they remember their father forming a relationship with their bus driver, giving them a different perspective of the bus driver's role in a school system. Renarda is currently in ninth grade at Howard High School, and Cypress is in sixth grade at Bonnie Branch Middle School.
"The bus drivers would always look out for us and others," Renarda said about her first time riding the bus in fifth grade. "I feel like people don't recognize that bus drivers aren't just the people who drive you back and forth to school. You can have relationships with them just like you do with your teachers and peers."
"We decided to write a book about it to express and show our experiences and that the bus can be a fun learning experience," Cypress added.
During his kids' early elementary school days, Booker said he was hesitant to let Renarda and Cypress ride the school bus after hearing about dangerous incidents aboard buses in neighboring counties. Booker's wife, Sheronda, reassured him about their children's safety, he said, as the parents got to know the bus driver.
"Often times, parents see their children at the bus stop and trust that the transportation teacher is going to get them to school and home, safely," Booker said. "For five days a week, 180 school days a year, some parents have never met or interviewed the bus driver. We put a lot of trust in them that there's safety on a snow day or a rainy day or in traffic."
David Ramsay, director of transportation for the Howard County school system, said bus drivers are essential in "setting the stage" for students at the beginning and end of each school day, adapting to situations on the road, such as closures, weather or traffic.
Although he has not yet read the book, Ramsay said he was pleased that children like Renarda and Cypress are recognizing the pivotal role of bus drivers.
"A lot of our drivers go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that our kids are safe," Ramsay said. "There are a lot of unsung heroes in the education arena and I always say our drivers are right up there because when it's cold and miserable outside, they're in bright and early, starting the buses up and checking them out."
Howard County public schools uses independent school bus contractors for student transportation, according to the school system's website, and hires drivers following the certification and background checking process.
The best parts of her weekdays are interacting with the kids, said Kathy Kline, who has driven a school bus in Howard County for nine years. In addition to taking children on a safe ride, Kline said, bus drivers also develop bonds with their passengers.
"You have to earn the children's respect and they give respect back," she said. "A lot of the time, the bus driver is the first adult a child sees because many parents have already left for work. … They might have had a really bad morning at home, but when they see your positive attitude, it helps change their attitude."
Similar to the adventures aboard Roodee, Kline said children's imaginations are fueled when they see new places during the ride.
Graphic designer Irene Baranyk, who completed the book's layout and design, said she enjoyed being a part of the book's message to children of all ages.
"I really liked the idea that any adult in children's lives can be teachers," Baranyk said. "There are the teachers in the school, but it was a really neat idea to bring forth that wherever you go, there's a teachable moment."
Following the success of their first children's book, Booker said the family will bring back Mary, Larry, Sherry and Berry for more lessons to recognize other important teachers in the community.
"This was a dedication to school bus drivers," Booker said. "We wanted to bring a level of diversity, inclusion ... because children are worldwide."