As media coverage of Superstorm Sandy filled the airwaves, children’s author Kate Messner was among the throngs of people who were deeply moved by the plight of those affected by the storm’s wrath. But she quickly found a way to turn her concern into action when she pulled together KidLit Cares: Superstorm Sandy Relief Effort, an online talent auction featuring services and items donated by the children’s book community and benefitting the Red Cross.

“Right after the storm hit I was watching the images on TV and was just heartbroken at seeing all the devastation. My first thought was ‘Wow. What can we do?’,” she says. That’s when Messner used social media to jump start a plan. “I put out some quick feelers on Facebook and immediately got a handful of responses saying ‘Count me in!’ or ‘I’m offering this,’ ” she says. The word was spread on Twitter as well as Messner (@KateMessner) asked for auction donations and generated a larger conversation under the hashtag #KidLitCares.

“Very quickly people were amazing—as people in the children’s book community are. It’s incredible.” As it happens, This is not the first time Messner has called on the community to lend a hand in the wake of a natural disaster. She spearheaded a campaign to rebuild her local public library in Upper Jay, N.Y., when it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Irene last year.

The 42 auction items from authors, illustrators, editors, and agents that comprise Round One are currently up for bid on Messner’s Web site as well as on the new KidLit Cares Facebook page, and include:

  • A picture book critique with author Deborah Underwood
  • A Skype visit with Mo Willems
  • A Skype visit and signed books from Barbara O’Connor
  • A “Free Pass” to Chronicle Books editorial meeting and picture book critique with editor Melissa Manlove
  • A 3-Day writing retreat at the Writing Barn in Austin
  • A Skype author visit with Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park

The Round One auctions are staggered with ending dates ranging from Nov. 7-Nov. 13. After that, Messner is handing the KidLit Cares baton to fellow Bloomsbury/Walker author and “organizational goddess” Joanne Levy, who will conduct Round Two, which runs Nov. 12-19. “I knew that my part would have to end soon because I will be traveling for book events these next two weeks,” says Messner, “and I was thrilled when Joanne offered to take on the next phase. We hope it’s as seamless as possible.”

Though Messner and Levy have never met in person, Levy previously offered (via Twitter, natch) her organizational skills to Messner when Messner launched the Teachers Write! online summer writing camp last summer. “It’s a labor of love,” says Levy who is juggling Round Two of the KidLit Cares auction along with her writing time and her fulltime job as an executive assistant. “It’s wonderful to be able to help with the stuff that I’m good at,” Levy notes.

Anyone wishing to offer an item for bid can get more information on either Messner’s or Levy’s Web site, or through a Google Doc that Levy has created.

As of Tuesday afternoon, KidLitCares has raised more than $13,000 in total bids/donations. Messner stresses that any donation is welcome. “I’ve heard from people who say ‘I want to help, but this is out of my price range,’ ” she says. “I encourage them to donate whatever they can, even if they can’t bid on an item. This is really the work of a whole lot of people.”

Messner says she will still be trying to help once she goes on the road. “I fly in to Newark Airport this week and I contacted a shelter that’s been set up near there and asked what they needed.” The shelter told Messner that socks were among the items they could use most, and she additionally offered to bring them some books. “I’m only carrying what I can fit in my suitcase, but a whole lot of little somethings add up to a lot.”

First Book, Publishers Rally for the Cause

First Book, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that provides new books to children in need, is teaming with its publishing partners and local volunteers to raise money for books that will replenish school and home libraries in low-income communities affected by Superstorm Sandy. Every $2.50 donated to the “virtual book drive fund” will provide a new book to a child. To double that impact, First Book’s publishing partners will match each $2.50 gift with an additional book.

In a statement, First Book president and CEO Kyle Zimmer explained that through its various efforts, her organization has witnessed the important role of books in the wake of a disaster. “After distributing more than five million books in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we know new books can be valuable lifelines for those whose worlds have been turned upside down,” she said.

Library Relief

Another segment of the children’s book community—librarians—is also stepping up to aid victims of Sandy. Urban Libraries Unite, a professional group based in New York City and dedicated to library support, has kicked off a Sandy Children’s Book Relief campaign. The group is soliciting new and good quality children’s books as well as cash donations to help rebuild the collections of several libraries in Queens, N.Y. that suffered extensive storm damage. As often happens with flooding, the books on the lowest shelves (where youngest readers can have easy access) take the biggest hit. Updates and information on how to help are available on the group’s Web site.

In addition, the American Library Association has posted information about how to contribute to libraries affected by Superstorm Sandy to its Web page about helping libraries in the aftermath of disasters.