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A Cry for Help

31 August 2016

From Trey Veazey, a first-year elementary school librarian in Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

Anyone who knows me knows that To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book (as well as my favorite film). That masterwork has become such an integral part of my life. If I could be any fictional character, it would be Atticus Finch. I share a birthday with Harper Lee. I once played Boo Radley in a community theatre production. In fact, I have the Radley tree tattooed on my arm. If my son Henry was to be a girl, we had planned to name him (her?) Scout. I’m even listening to Elmer Bernstein’s film score as I write this.

All of this meandering is to reinforce the power of books & reading in my life, & this is only in reference to one book. There have actually been countless ones that have left their imprint on me, & like others similar to me, many of those impressions were made during my childhood.

. . . .

 This is how I show my students that I love them — by putting books in their hands, by noticing what they are about, & finding books that tell them, “I know. I know. I know how it is. I know who you are, & even though we may never speak of it, read this book, & know that I understand you.”

. . . .

We were at school for 2 days, & then, the rains came. You might’ve heard. 

In the spirit of school, I have to tattle on myself to say that I broke the rules. After the water receded, I sneaked inside the building to check on the status of my library. I knew that there was damage. I knew that it was likely that over 500 of my own personal books — years of classroom library building & Scholastic points — would be ruined, unusable, destroyed. I was expectant that the box of books that I had begun gathering for my next Milk + Bookies drive would never be unpacked. In my mind, I knew all of this. In my heart, I was unprepared for the visual confirmation.

As I tried not to fall down in what was surely sewage water, I began to take note of the titles that made themselves known to me amid the destruction. The books were telling me something.

Unspeakable things have happened, yet you must move forward.

The sadness is heavy, but joy lies within your own strength.

A challenge is only the beginning. (Also, you’re not dead.)

Molly Lou Melon was very specific. Stand tall, man. Stand tall.

Others have persevered through far worse than this. 

. . . .

When I returned to the library over a week later, there were no more lessons to be learned. Reality had set in.

The books were gone. I would have no chance to save titles on higher shelves such as my signed edition of Dear Hank Williams from when Kimberly Willis Holt visited my school or a brand new copy of Counting Thyme that I bought for the library after tearing through it on the beach this past summer or all of the graphic novels I’d spent the last year collecting because my students couldn’t get enough of El Deafo, The Dumbest Idea Ever!, Roller Girl, & Sunny Side Up. I don’t want to talk about the ones that I haven’t even gotten to read yet like The Seventh Wish or Jack & Louisa: Act 2. I tried to tell myself that they were “only books,” but anyone who has ever loved a book knows that there is no such thing as “only books.”

So, why am I writing my first blog post in over 10 years? Why am I reminiscing about every wonderful book that comes to mind? Why am I tearing up as the strings in Elmer Bernstein’s orchestra swell to perfection, conjuring up a young Mary Badham complaining to Gregory Peck about school? The answer is simple. I need help.

We are relocating. We’ve been ushered over to a building that was built in 1937. That means my new school is the same age as And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. It also means that, in my first year as a librarian, I have a library without any books.

Access to books is the key to educational success. Our library doesn’t have books. Our classrooms don’t have books. Many of the homes of our students don’t have books. Like the tears that rolled down our faces both in silent & violent measures, they became a part of the flood before being swept away as we looked toward rebuilding & recovery.

How does one recover without books? I know not the answer to this, & so, I plead to you. Help us. There are kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that are hungry for knowledge & desperate to know that good remains in the world.

If you are an author/illustrator/publisher & would love to have your books in the hands of readers, please consider sending us those books. 

If you are someone with a generous spirit that doesn’t happen to write children’s books, we are in need of new or like-new books, both fiction & nonfiction, that would appeal to readers in PreKindergarten through Grade 5. If you are someone who would prefer to help in a pecuniary fashion, be assured that your funds, directed through the proper channels, will help to revitalize the library with magazine subscriptions, music, films, & chocolate. All others, feel free to send good thoughts. After this emotional & literal depletion, we are in dire need of good thoughts.

It has taken me over a week to muster the determination to conjure up this post, & while it’s possibly — ok, almost certainly — of an absurd length, it is my heart on display. It is a written manifestation of what I feel every time I walk into my public library — that there is a place for me, that there are others who care, & that the world is a naturally good place. I know all of these things to be true because of books (& family & movies & music & honey buns).

. . . .

 Trey Veazey
Glen Oaks Park Elementary School
2401 72nd Avenue
Baton Rouge, LA 70807
This is the address of our temporary location (formerly known as Banks Elementary). We are not guaranteed to receive any books sent to our home site on Lanier Drive. 

Link to the rest at Trey Veazey and thanks to Dave for the tip.

For visitors to The Passive Voice from outside the United States, an extremely powerful storm caused catastrophic flooding that inundated about 100,000 houses plus businesses, schools, etc., in Louisiana, a state located on the Gulf of Mexico in the southern United States.

Louisiana is not a wealthy state. Out of the fifty states, Louisiana ranks 44 in median household income.

Here are some photos of school and library damage in the Baton Rouge area:

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Additional photos of Louisiana flood damage are here and a description of the flooding is here.

Books in General, Libraries

12 Comments to “A Cry for Help”

  1. I feel sorry for them, but I do wish we’d stop building in what once were considered (and were called) floodplains. Losing some crops/cattle is cheaper than homes and schools.

    As for me, a quart size Ziploc bag for my kindle and a second for my pocket-sized terabyte external backup hard-drive and my books and stories in work are ready for travel. (My netbook takes a little more space if I want to write on the go.)

    • I understand your point, but it is important to note that many places that flooded were not in flood areas & had never flooded before.

  2. We will help. Thank you for telling us PG. Like north of London that time, and west coast that time… now this too.

    The people of Louisiana who came literally airlifted by the thousands to different parts of the USA after Katrina, trust, were/are some of the finest people in the world, deeply ethnic often in their own ways, completely bewildered by what had happened. And most poor. Poor who had hardly anything to begin with except ramshackle tenant farmer shacks or three story falling down balconied dwellings built in the 1800s, and now having nothing but each other. And bad bad memories. Mommies and daddies carrying naked babies to do their business outdoors in the ‘new city’ because they had no diapers whatsoever, people who had lost their reading glasses and couldnt see, pregnant mothers who had no medical care, women who had no sanitary supplies, people who had lost all their pets, little ones without school to go to, no story books, no jobs, just ‘squat’ nothing. Ipads, cell phones, laptops?be serious. Most didnt even have a comb.

    And yet, they were to a person even though hurt bad, the nicest, sweetest, most old fashioned cordial, and shy smiling people you could ever meet.

    This teacher is a warrior. She aint lookin’ back. She’s looking forward. And yes, amongst the poor and poorer, books, as in print volumes, are what they have in reach, often the ONLY reading they have in reach in any way.

  3. Having spent several hours this week shelving books in school libraries, seeing this makes my heart hurt.

  4. If the writer hadn’t been so heavy with the l33t ampersands I might not have lost interest a few paragraphs in…

    • Personally, I’m going to cut her some slack. It was a blog post, and she seems traumatized still.

      I’ll see what I can help her with, anyway.

  5. this article touched me. as the author states, I tried to tell myself that they were “only books,” but anyone who has ever loved a book knows that there is no such thing as “only books.” I completely understand, and feel it. deeply.

    thanks for sharing this, PG.

  6. DonorsChoose (a clearinghouse for funding educational projects, mentioned in the OP’s article) has a special section for funding not just this school but many others equally hard hit.
    https://www.donorschoose.org/giving/louisiana-flood-relief/20816932/?active=true

  7. I just sent off copies of all my fairy tale books. I sent them directly from Create Space, so I should probably write them a letter saying who they’re from. I hope the kids at the school enjoy them!

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