Weathering the storm-Thousands read books for young Harvey victims
Lissetty Thomas-Johnson and Mary Kreuscher, librarians at the Patchogue-Medford Library, recorded short videos reading children’s books aloud as part of the Hurricane Harvey Book Club.

ADV/Smith

Weathering the storm-Thousands read books for young Harvey victims

Story By: TARA SMITH
9/14/2017


As Hurricane Harvey swept through Texas, we northerners sat glued to our televisions, feeling helpless as the skies cleared to reveal the destruction. Joyce Thompson-Haas, a children’s librarian at Patchogue-Medford Library, came across a video on Facebook about the Hurricane Harvey Book Club. “Instantly, I thought, ‘I need to be involved in this.’ As a children’s librarian, as soon as I see something that has to do with books, I jump on it,” she said in an interview last week.

The Harvey Book Club is a public Facebook group started by Kathryn Butler Mills, a second-grade teacher in Katy, Texas. In a post welcoming the 70 people she initially invited to the page, Mills wrote, “The purpose of this not-for-profit page is to bring joy and normalcy to so many that are currently dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.” Suddenly, teachers, parents and even kids posted videos of them reading their favorite children’s books aloud. “Teachers tell their students all the time that books can take them on far-away adventures,” Mills continued in her post. The videos were meant to keep up the back-to-school momentum, since it may be weeks until children are back in their classrooms.

The group’s membership has soared to over 50,000 and has helped connect teachers with libraries which have offered to send books to affected areas that lost everything.

Haas said that as she watched coverage of the storm, she immediately thought of all the schools and libraries that had to be affected. “I noticed a lot of the people who posted their video of themselves reading were from Texas, but why not show support from Long Island to show the country is supportive?” she said. “We are trying to help in any way we can being far away,” she said. “Children love to read and what better way for them to forget about the devastation, even if it’s just for a two-minute story.”

Her colleagues at the library jumped on board, too, Haas said. Fellow children’s librarian Mary Kreuscher said that the response has been positive. “Someone commented on my post that it was nice to see people all the way in New York sharing the stories for children,” Kreuscher said. In her video, she read, “Bear’s New Friend,” by Karma Wilson, a story about a bear befriending an owl. Haas read, “Little Penguin Gets the Hiccups,” by Tadgh Bentley, a funny tale about getting rid of hiccups. Spanish outreach librarian Lissetty Thomas-Johnson read, “David Goes to School” in Spanish, “David va al colegio,” by David Shannon. “It was a nice contribution. Others in the group submitted videos in Farsi, and even a few in American Sign Language,” Kreuscher explained. “It’s really great to see the diversity.”

The librarians filmed the storytellings with their iPhones on a quiet Friday afternoon at the library. “We practiced first to get the timing and jitters out,” Kreuscher said. “But we’re used to story time.”

Mills, who started the Harvey Book Club, closed the group over the weekend, but hopes the message will continue. She said she would continue to monitor the Twitter account @hurricaneharveybc as a community of readers. Kreuscher said she’s glad the library got involved and hopes the opportunity will arise again for children affected by Hurricane Irma. “Storytelling is our job,” Kreuscher said. “So any opportunity to share a story with children is great.”