By Darla Atlas
Updated August 31, 2009 12:00 PM

Jennifer Frances, 38


As a child Jennifer Frances loved opening the mailbox to find books sent by her grandma in Massachusetts. “When you open a book, you open a whole new world,” she says. Sadly, her grandmother Bess O’Keefe died in 1992, while Jennifer was in college. But a decade later, stuck in a job managing apartments, Jennifer decided to turn her fond recollections of Nana’s books into new memories for kids today.

Since 2002 she’s shared nearly 200,000 such memories. She cashed out a 401K account, bought a used van that she dubbed Bess the Book Bus and began visiting libraries and Boys & Girls Clubs to let each child pick several books. This summer, loaded with kids’ titles (mostly donated by, she has expanded her route to 35 states. Jennifer, who has two buses, funds her program with donations and waitressing. Recently one young recipient told her, “You’re going to give a lot of kids a book habit.” And that, says Jennifer, “sums up my mission statement better than anything.”