A walking school bus is not a vehicle with tires but rather a concept involving many legs and a lot of soul.

When Aaron Friedland began his master's program in economics at the University of British Columbia about a decade ago, he decided to study how distance to school affects attendance. He spent two months living in rural Uganda, regularly going on hikes with a group of children who walked five miles each way to get an education. He still remembers that first morning when he rode a "boda boda" motorbike past cornfields at 6:30 am to meet them at the junction of a red iron-rich road.

"Jacob arrived first. He was 12 years old and the leader of the pack," Friedland says. A few more children with backpacks arrived, and they began the walk. Friedland wore sturdy boots, while the students all wore sandals made from recycled car tires.

"Jacob sprints ahead, vaulting over a barbed-wire fence and running into a cornfield to a large mango tree. I see mangos falling, and then he returns with a big grin, distributing mangos to everyone." It was a kind gesture but also a reminder that children facing grueling journeys to school need extra nourishment so they don't arrive hungry and less ready to learn.

This experience led to much more than the planned research. ("The longer the distance, the more likely you are to miss school," Friedland confirms.) He founded the non-profit organization The Walking School Bus, which focuses on improving access to education, and initiated a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to publish a children's book he co-authored with the same name.

In the book "The Walking School Bus," a toy school bus inspires children to figure out a way to stay safe during their long journeys to school. The illustrations were done by artist Andrew Jackson Obol, who was born and raised in Uganda.

The story is set in South Africa, where Friedland's parents lived until their family moved to Canada when he was one year old. His tale follows siblings Shake and Nandi. Their father has to work far away for several months, and their mother's job keeps her in the village. So, there's no one to accompany the children to school. The journey is long, and thieves sometimes hide under a bridge along the way, making it too dangerous for the two kids. They're bored at home and discover a toy school bus in the sand that inspires them to try to build their own. Eventually, they succeed when they realize they can find safety together with other children and form a walking school bus.

Over the past few years, the non-profit has continued to grow. It's now called the Simbi Foundation (named after a reading app developed by Friedland), and it helps thousands of young people in Uganda and India learn by using shipping containers converted into solar-powered classrooms.

However, the book was never published—until this year. The original text was 128 pages when Friedland presented it to the publisher Greystone Books. "They said, 'Great idea, but no,'" explains Friedland, who had to figure out how to rewrite it in a more accessible format.