8-year-old girl receives hundreds of books from authors after losing all of hers in a fire
An author, a teacher and a tweet were all it took to get a book-loving little girl back on her feet after a devastating house fire.
Over 300 books were signed, sealed and delivered to 8-year-old Heidi VanSumeren after all of hers, along with much of her family's possessions, were destroyed in a fire.
Beth VanSumeren, Heidi's mom, told InsideEdition.com that March 22 was a day like any other. Heidi, VanSumeren, and her husband had just gotten home from grocery shopping. She said when her husband opened the door, he was met with engulfing flames.
Their pets, a dog and a cat, had not made it out of the home in time.
"Heidi had always wanted a cat, so for Christmas, Santa Claus brought her a kitten," VanSumeren explained. The family could never have a cat before, because their middle daughter, Avery, was allergic.
Avery passed away when she was 11 years old, almost exactly a year before the family lost their house to the fire.
"Our family has been through a lot in the last year and a half," VanSumeren told IE.com, "and I'm so fearful that my kids will give up hope."
After the second grader was kept from school for the next two days, she returned just in time to see visiting author Bob Shea present at their school, Parma Elementary in Michigan.
Colby Sharp, a third grade teacher at the school, was in charge of organizing the event.
"[Bob Shea] does this thing towards the end where he draws one of his characters, Ballet Cat," Sharp told IE.com. "The author will randomly call on someone to assist, but Bob came to me before and said, 'Hey, some kids are really good at getting picked. I like to try to call someone who needs a lift, and someone who can use it."
Shea told IE.com that he was quick to call on Heidi. He asked her simple questions in front of the entire class, and encouraged the kids to applaud: "I bring them up and make a big deal out of them. [Heidi] was just very sweet and played along the whole time."
VanSumeren said Heidi arrived home ecstatic. She had no idea the 'surprise' was actually planned out, even though Heidi said the author knew her by name immediately.
Later that day, Shea said the teacher thanked him, and told him that, "the biggest thing she misses is that she lost her writing desk and her school supplies."
"That broke my heart," Shea said. "I said, "Colby, is it okay if I tweeted some people to send books?' I figured [a lot of] authors and illustrators follow me on Twitter. Everybody would love to help out."
Sharp quickly retweeted the author's request. He even included the information in a blog post, knowing he would be able to reach teachers and other children's reading enthusiasts.
"Twitter exploded," Sharp said. "150 books within two days were at our school."
See more photos:
VanSumeren said she didn't find out until she received a call from Ms. Haney, the school principal, who said: "My table is filled with books for Heidi. If you don't mind, I can bring her down and she can start opening them."
The family also received various gift cards, art supplies, stuffed animals, and books for their eldest daughter, Hannah, who is a junior in high school.
Sharp said a librarian in Montana even raised enough money to send a new desk, chair and bookshelf from Pottery Barn, worth around $800.
But the biggest impact by far have been the books. The family said that as of last week, they received over 300 books.
"[Heidi] has always used books as a coping mechanism. She loves to read," VanSumeren said, including that she is more than thankful for all the support they have been receiving. "When we lost our daughter [Avery], we got a bunch of books about grieving to explain to her what's going on."
So far, Heidi's mom said her favorite book they received has been The Kissing Hand, a classic by Audrey Penn. Heidi also loves reading the personal notes each author included in their books, and all the different states the books have been coming from.
"I'm not surprised at all," the teacher sad in response to the support from the community. "The generosity of the Parma community and the children's literature community - I've just realized with those two groups, anything is possible. They can't fool me anymore!"
Sharp also said that because of all the support Heidi has been getting from teachers, she now dreams of becoming a teacher when she grows up.
"That just melted my heart," the teacher told IE.com.