The Ancient Greeks certainly understood a thing or two about medical science. Carved over the entrance to the Library at Thebes is the simple inscription ‘Medicine for the Soul.’ Over two thousand years later, the connection between reading and healing is equally true today. Just ask the patients at one of the leading pediatric hospitals in the nation.
Last fall, the young patients at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, on the campus of Emory University, began participating in a reading program offered by the neighboring Barnes & Noble at Emory University bookstore. But that’s only the beginning of the story. “Initially, we were just trying to reach out to our university hospital and the community at large – to build our reputation,” remembers Store Manager, Myra Haley. “But the interactions were so responsive and so appreciative it grew into much, much more.”
Like many hospitals, Children’s Hospital has its own library on-site and Haley partnered with its librarians to develop a regular weekly reading program. An essential part of each story-time is the cast of characters the bookstore team brings along to make each event even more fun and engaging for the children. Biscuit the Dog, Peter Rabbit, Cookie the Mouse and Curious George have all made regular appearances at the cherished story-times. Typically, the store receives three or four different characters to rotate throughout the semester in a program available through Barnes & Noble College. Haley reports that her student workers regularly compete over who is going to be the costume character that week. The children, of course, love them all. “Biscuit is a very popular reading series with the children, although Curious George is a hero on campus and students always stop us to have their picture taken with him,” Haley points out.
The program has become so successful that neighboring and affiliate Children’s at Scottish Rite hospital has also invited Haley and her team to bring story-time to their pediatric patients. Children who cannot physically attend story-time receive a visit from the costume characters in their rooms. ”We go to every floor and every door,” Haley explains. From tots to teens, from organ transplants to cancer treatments, the characters make sure no one is left out. The bookstore staff also performs double duty at Emory University homecoming and alumni events as well as a variety of children activities outside of their hospital appearances.
In addition to running the busy 29,000-square-foot bookstore, Myra and her team always find time for the hospital visits. “It may have started as a way for the store to connect with the hospital,” she says, “but now it’s become so much more for us, and for our campus as well.” She points out that the heartfelt response from their audiences is more than enough reward for the extra hours the team devotes to the visits. “Going into the hospital gives you new breath – it gives you new eyes,” Myra explains. “To see children who have been through so much, yet wave and smile at the character when you walk into the room, just makes you feel so good. It makes you feel great about life.”