Royal Oak Bicyclist’s Little Library Castle Only Part of the Story
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 17, 2019)
Royal Oak, MI – This summer Jaime Rodriguez poured countless hours and thousands of dollars into a project that now means long bicycle rides 2-3 days a week pulling around a castle full of books.
Prior to constructing a little free library on wheels, Royal Oak resident and his girlfriend Crystal built nine standard little free libraries and donated the to Brilliant Detroit.
This year the couple started with the “Happy Bunny Bicycle Bookery!” This is an adult sized tricycle with a bright multi-colored umbrella and boxes on the back to transport books. The storage boxes are orange with painting of bunnies done by local artist Carl Oxley, and the point of the bookery is travel through the Royal Oak area, accepting kids books, putting books into free libraries that need stocked, and paying forward half of the books that come in to Brilliant Detroit.
The Happy Bunny bookery was popular, but difficult to steer and take long distances. So Rodriguez decided to up his book-sharing game by building a portable castle that definitely gets him noticed as he rides about ten miles in and around Royal Oak 2-3 days each week delivering and receiving books.
The castle itself is about the size of a portable potty, perched high on the back of a pedicab frame. The wooden structure has cabinet areas and drawers, plus a fold down peak so it can be more easily stored and be brought to indoor venues like community centers or hospitals. It’s designed to look like the Neuschwanstein Castle, although Rodriguez hasn’t found the right person to paint it yet.
“I’m hoping that an art teacher might want to take this on as a class project,” he said. “That would be a great experience for some kids.”
Building the book castle was some experience for Rodriguez also, who learned as he went along.
“I had to make a drawer. I’m a nurse. I don’t know how to make a drawer. So I had to You Tube it and it took a whole day just learning how to build a drawer.”
The drawers also, it should be noted, are adorned with cutouts in the shape of wings. There is also a fold-down drawbridge at the back where youngsters can step up and get a better view of the books.
As far as kids on the street or the parks, Rodriguez only pulls up if there are parents around. He also takes care to screen the books. “Some are just really outdated, and others are just junk for kids to look at but aren’t really teaching them anything,” he said. He pays attention to removing those with gender and racial stereotypes, and he works with Scholastic Books to purchase books in larger quantities through the educational reading brand he trusts.
Each week he gives out about 200 books a week during his ten mile bike trips. Donations seem to come in at a regular pace. Rodriguez works at a local hospital as a nurse, and word there has gotten around. He is often leaving at the end of his shift with donated books to be added. “I’ve got like 14 boxes in my basement,” he said.
But the books go quickly, and the need is great. “When children are learning to read, they need 200 books in those years when they are learning in order to be proficient,” he said.
While the sight of a man peddling along with a 450 lb castle full of books to give often strikes people as impressive, Rodriguez said it is nothing compared to what others are doing.
“Brilliant Detroit is really doing all the hard work,” he said. “They’re turning houses into community centers, they’re having classes where parents are learning to read along with their kids, making sure kids have something to eat. That’s the real work. Our job is just to give them books.”
Those who want to know more can reach out Happy Bunny Bicycle Bookery on Facebook. The couple is hoping to find an art teacher who may be interested in painting the castle as a class project. Also if anyone would like to donate to help this effort continue, there is a GoFundMe page.