According to children’s author Michelle Houts, a single page torn from a book inspired her to organize a book drive to benefit Celina, Ohio’s children after a tornado devastated the rural town of 10,500 people, about 50 miles northwest of Dayton. The tornado touched down on Memorial Day weekend and destroyed the homes of 50 families and severely damaged another 50.
While helping families clean up Houts said, a friend found in the bushes in the town’s most devastated neighborhood a single page torn from Thomas Locker’s illustrated book of poems for young readers, Water Dance (Harcourt, 1997).
“On one side, ironically, a stunning watercolor of lightning and dark skies,” she explained. “On the other, a verse that began ‘Storms come, storms pass….’ I Googled the verse and was able to identify the book.”
Houts recalled that as she read the poem, two thoughts crossed her mind. First, she thought, “A child has lost a beautiful picture book.” And second, “I know replacing family libraries isn’t the first thing on these people’s minds, but these kids lost their books, and my friends in the world of children’s literature would help. I know it can be done.”
Houts contacted another children’s author, Lee Wardlaw, who a few months ago collected 5,300 books and then drove a truck filled with them from Santa Barbara to Paradise, Calif., to replenish its libraries after a wildfire decimated that town last November.
Taking a page from Wardlaw’s book, so to speak, Houts issued a call to the kidlit community asking for new books to hand out to the families affected by the Celina tornado. Houts reports that more than 90 authors, illustrators, booksellers, and industry professionals—including Cinda Williams Chima, Denise Fleming, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Terri Libenson, Mindy McGinnis, Pat Zietlow Miller, Marc Tyler Nobleman, Megan Whelan Turner, and Mia Wenjen, among many others—answered the call for new books. The Junior Library Guild was the book drive’s largest donor, sending Houts four boxes filled with more than 100 books. In total, about 850 new books, valued at more than $11,000, were received to benefit Celina’s young tornado survivors. “Most of them were hardcover, and a lot of them were signed,” Houts said.
On July 29, some of the 100 families who had lost their homes and/or possessions two months earlier gathered, including 37 children, who each selected 20 books from the stacks. The books were placed in tote bags imprinted with Locker’s quote and a rainbow, designed by children’s illustrator Jane Dippold. About 150 books that were left over after the gathering were donated to Celina’s elementary, middle, and high schools.
“Families with multiple children left with 40 to 60 books,” Houts said. “Their family libraries were rebuilt in an evening. I couldn’t be prouder of the children’s literature community than I am today.”