When the sirens and cell-phone warnings started to sound in and around Celina, Ohio, on the evening of Memorial Day 2019, families and neighbors knew something big was coming. Tornado warnings were blaring on every TV, sending Celina residents scrambling to their basements and bathtubs to survive the storm. Altogether that evening and into the following morning, 21 tornadoes struck central and western Ohio, leaving behind despair and destruction and setting what Cincinnati.com called “a new record for the highest total of twisters in a single, local event in recorded history.”
In Celina alone, more than 50 homes were destroyed, devastating the small community of less than 11,000 residents. For these families (and businesses), everything was lost: furniture, clothing, photographs, mementos and, central to this story, books.
“I live in Celina where a tornado hit two neighborhoods on Memorial Day,” says Ohio resident and children’s book author Michelle Houts (whose book Winterfrost was a JLG 2015 selection). “I decided to appeal to fellow authors and illustrators nationwide to collect books to replace lost family libraries.”
Michelle’s efforts were inspired, in part, when a friend discovered two pages from a children’s picture book (Water Dance by Thomas Locker) among the rubble of one of the damaged Celina homes.
Storms come, / Storms pass. / I am countless droplets of rain / left floating in the silent air. / I reflect all the colors of sunlight. / I am the rainbow.
Seeing the torn book pages—themselves depicting a storm and recovery—made Michelle’s plan even more poignant. Using social media and a blog published on fromthemixedupfiles.com, Michelle encouraged artists and others in the kidlit community to help out by donating “new children’s books—board books, picture books, MG and YA” to her collection drive.
Michelle’s post of the book pages, captioned “Please help my community find their rainbow. Thank you in advance. #KidlitForCelina,” caught the eye of fellow Ohio-based children’s author Nancy Roe Pimm. Author of several JLG Gold Standard Selections and a long-time member of the JLG community, Nancy knew she would find support for Michelle’s book drive from Junior Library Guild, which is headquartered in her hometown of Plain City, Ohio.
“I have known Nancy for about 10 years,” says Chas Turner, JLG Warehouse Manager. “Back when JLG had a publishing company (Darby Creek), we published her books and we have stayed in touch. So, when she needed some books, she emailed me and we arranged for her to come to the warehouse and pick some out for the donation drive.”
“Chas went beyond our expectations!” says Michelle, adding that altogether nearly 700 books valued at over $9,000 were donated to the drive. In late July she will be working with Celina’s elementary school principal and a local business to host an event where families can come select books. “I'm beyond grateful for the response and can’t wait for distribution day!”
As an Ohio-based company dedicated to putting the best books in the hands of today’s young readers, participating in Michelle’s book drive was a touching opportunity to support the broader literacy community and our home state. It was our honor to be part of Michelle’s efforts to rebuild personal and school libraries in Celina!
If you would like to donate to Michelle’s #KidLitforCelina drive, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.