In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, members of the children’s book community—including teachers and literacy activists—have rallied in support of students and educators. A number of authors have also organized efforts to provide books, clothes, and other basic-needs items to children and families affected by the storm.
Back in 2012, author Kate Messner launched KidLit Cares, an online talent auction of children’s book art and other items, in response to Hurricane Sandy. The first auction brought in more than $35,000. Messner recently reprised the initiative when she learned of the devastation caused by Harvey. “Like so many people, I watched the news about Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath and was absolutely heartbroken to see so many families in crisis. The scope of that storm was devastating, and it hit vulnerable populations the hardest. I wanted to do something and knew that I wasn’t alone,” she said.
On August 27, Messner posted a call on her blog, inviting authors, illustrators, and children’s publishing professionals to donate Skype visits, artwork, and other “big-ticket items.” She quickly rounded up participants, saying, “People in the children’s literature community responded in a big way. Our donors and bidders were amazing and generous, and people were just great about helping out—especially Linda Sue Park, who logged all of our donation receipts and kept track of things so that we could offer people a choice of where to donate.”
Promotion for the auction took place entirely on social media, which Messner believes allowed for timely action. “I have days when I need a break from Facebook and Twitter, but when you truly need to rally people for a good cause, there’s nothing like those platforms to get the word out. In my opinion, that’s social media at its very best.”
The auction—which included more than 200 items—brought in more than $94,000 for the American Red Cross and Global Giving Hurricane Harvey. Two anonymous donors from the children’s book world made a final donation, bringing the total to $100,000.
As a Houston resident, YA author Becky Wallace was likewise spurred to action when Hurricane Harvey hit on August 25. Soon after, she heard from her friend, a teacher at a nearby elementary school, that her classroom had been flooded. “I realized she was probably one of many,” Wallace said. “I had enough contacts in the publishing industry and friends who are authors and bloggers that I could start something. I didn’t intend it to be a big cause, but I thought I could collect books for a couple of classes here and there.”
Wallace tweeted on September 1, inviting authors and readers to send her books—from picture books to YA titles—to help restore classroom libraries. The response was immediate. “By the following Monday, I had about 600 books from people all over the country. Right now, we’re almost at the 6,000 mark. It exploded really fast,” she said.
In the Houston school district, more than 200 teachers lost everything in the storm. To date, Wallace has delivered approximately 2,500 books to schools throughout the region. “It’s been amazing to see the damage these schools have sustained and to be a small part of helping them get back on their feet.”
On October 1, Wallace plans to roll out the second phase of #BooksforHouston. She will work alongside Messner, who—in addition to organizing the KidLit Cares auction—has created a Google form for Texas teachers and librarians to submit requests for books. Wallace is helping to get the word out among authors and publishers. She is also working with Eagle and Girl Scouts to raise funds for purchasing books from the wish lists. “New books will be delivered as fast as these kids can collect the money and send them,” Wallace said.
After hearing about the struggles of Wallace’s neighbors in Houston, friend and fellow YA author Sara B. Larson joined the relief effort by holding an auction on Instagram. Items included autographed books, manuscript critiques, Skype visits from YA authors, and the opportunity to have a character named after oneself. To date, Larson has raised $23,000 to aid children and families affected by the storm, using the hashtag #HelpandHopeforHouston.
Larson described the impetus behind the initiative. “I felt so helpless. I was donating to causes, but I thought it was a drop in the bucket. I thought if I could get a bunch of people to help give money directly to the families, we could give a little bit of hope.’ ” She stressed that 100% of proceeds from #HelpandHopeforHouston go to hurricane victims.
Larson and her husband recently traveled to Houston from their home outside of Salt Lake City to personally distribute the funds to six families. “Everything these families owned is piled outside. And the smell is horrific. People lost everything but what they wore,” she said. “Meeting these families was a powerful experience. The joy on their faces—we surprised all of them. It was so heartbreaking and humbling.”
With help from a local boutique in Provo, Utah, Called to Surf, Larson has also collected new clothing for those in need. “People don’t realize that the flood waters soaked and contaminated people’s clothing. You can’t just wash and use it again,” she said. Larson plans to continue her fundraising and relief efforts. “My hope is that other authors will take up the cause,” she said.
Meanwhile, Florida authors, including Lynne Matson and Lauren Gibaldi, are starting similar initiatives for communities that were affected by Hurricane Irma. Children’s book bloggers are also showing support. Yara Santos of Once Upon a Twilight delivered 4,000 new YA books to Wallace. “Blogger outreach has been so substantial,” Wallace said. She expressed her gratitude for the ongoing support: “It’s so much more than I could’ve done on my own.”