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How the Hurricane Harvey Book Club is helping little flood victims with words

Kathryn Butler Mills, a Texas teacher, woke up Sunday morning to a devastated community. So, on Facebook, she started a book club.
/ Source: TODAY

When a hurricane hits as hard as Harvey has hit the Houston area, many people are moved to act from afar. They donate money to charitable organizations, send supplies like diapers, or even offer their own homes as shelter from the floods.

If you are a teacher, you might invite people to reach out with words and books.

Kathryn Butler Mills, a second grade teacher from Katy, Texas, woke up Sunday morning to a devastated community. On social media, she told TODAY Parents, she saw “several of my students, past and present, sitting under staircases, in bathrooms, and in pantries, waiting out tornado watches and warnings.”

Kathryn Butler Mills founded the Hurricane Harvey Book Club on Facebook to support her struggling community of little ones.

Mills said that her heart ached for these children under 10, and she wanted “to figure out a way to bring a little normal to them in very not normal circumstances.”

“Several of the kiddos were reading, and I thought, let’s keep the momentum of a brand new school year going and have them record themselves reading for their classmates,” Mills said. “My original plan was that I would make a positive comment on each one, and encourage others to join in.”

And so on Sunday, Mills started the Hurricane Harvey Book Club. On Facebook, she invited 70 local families to join the public group, asking kids to record videos of themselves reading aloud to share with those who had no books within reach in the floods.

By Tuesday, the book club had swelled to over 7,000 members and counting, with over 300 videos posted on the site — well beyond Mills’ “wildest dreams.”

Anyone in the group can post a video reading a children’s book, and many participants are school-age children from flood-stricken areas. Not only does reading aloud give kids something fun to do, but sharing the videos also enables them to give comfort to other little people in similar situations.

Butler Mills kicked off the project with her own reading. The group has since swelled to include thousands.

Mills’ favorite part of the project, she said, is “seeing the kids read with such expression, and really playing to the camera. The best part is hearing their ‘teacher voice’ and realizing that all the good stuff they are learning in class is sticking!”

As word of the Hurricane Harvey Book Club spreads, many more readers are chiming in from all over the country. The page’s readers include children’s book authors and illustrators, elementary school teachers and librarians, as well as ordinary book lovers.

Children’s book author Josh Funk contributed his own rendition of “Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast,” a hilarious picture book about two breakfast foods in a race to get to the last syrup in the refrigerator. Coerte Voorhees, a Houston author who wrote “Storm Wrangler” for his two-year-old after coping with Hurricane Ike in 2008, contributed by reading his book.

“I just can’t stop visiting this page,” Jessie Bonner Miller, principal of Davidson Elementary School in Katy, posted on the Book Club’s Facebook page. “It warms my heart…[and] I am also making a list of books I need to add to my collection!”

This Book Club, Mills said, “has been such a source of light for me in this storm. I think it has been good medicine for both children and adults — it was a group that was thought up out of love and it has grown out of love for this sweet community.

“Texas is a pretty big place and so is the district I work for, but one thing is for sure: We pull together like a small town,” Mills said.

Mills’ own home in Katy, Texas is on a hill currently surrounded by water, with roads around her closed down and friends having had to evacuate.

“This sweet group is the least I can do,” Mills said.