Sickle Cell Story Club promotes literacy with free books




“Kids light up when they see the books,” says Riley psychologist Dr. Julia LaMotte.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

As psychologist Julia LaMotte turns the pages of the book “I Am Enough,” 6-year-old Andraya Hyppolite reads in a soft, halting voice.

“Like the sun, I’m here to shine.”

The bright first-grader just became part of a new club at Riley Hospital for Children – the Sickle Cell Story Club. And that means she and other patients in Riley’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program receive new books during clinic visits, thanks to generous donors and the passion of Dr. LaMotte and others for literacy.

Andraya reads "I Am Enough"

Dr. LaMotte joined the Riley sickle cell team in October from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and launched Sickle Cell Story Club just a few weeks ago.

Modeled after Reach Out and Read, the program aims to improve literacy in children of all ages, specifically those who suffer from sickle cell disease, an inherited red blood cell disorder causing pain, infections and extreme fatigue. In the U.S., the disease is most common in African-Americans.

“We know that kids with sickle cell are at a higher risk for having reading difficulties due to the disease process and the fact that many of our children will undergo silent and overt strokes,” Dr. LaMotte said, adding there are many benefits to having a book giveaway. “Most importantly, it increases the likelihood of engaging in literacy activities at home.”

Sickle Cell Story Club

Renette Hyppolite, who recently moved to Indiana from Florida, says her daughter loves to read and will add “I Am Enough” to her collection of books at home. Andraya says her favorite book is “Knuffle Bunny,” a tale of a stuffed animal’s trip to a laundry mat.

“Kids light up when they see the books,” Dr. LaMotte said. “There is such joy. We specifically wanted to pick books that have diverse characters,” she added. “We know that having books with characters you can relate to helps increase literacy and confidence.”

The books promote self-esteem, emotion identification and feeling good about the skin you’re in, she said, and feedback from families has been positive.

“They really like it, and I think kids like that we have picked books with them in mind.”

Averey Edwards was excited to show his new book to his dad when he got home from Riley last week. Averey, the 10-year-old son of A.J. and Rhonda Edwards, loves to read. In fact, last week he hit the jackpot, his dad said.

Averey Edwards show off his "New Kid" book

“They had a book fair at school last week, and he got about $30 worth of books. He’s always wanting to gain knowledge.”

Described as mature, independent and quiet by his dad, Averey loves science and wants to be an aerospace engineer at NASA someday. He was able to meet an astronaut through Make-A-Wish two years ago.

Books aren’t targeted to just young readers, but from ages 0 to 21, Dr. LaMotte said, emphasizing that the program is designed to promote reading across developmental ages, keeping in mind the literacy level of patients.

It’s all part of Riley’s focus on the whole child, she explained.

“It’s not just the patient we see in our office, but that patient lives a life outside of our hospital walls. We’re not just focused on their physical well-being, but we care about their emotional well-being and their academic competency. It’s incredibly important.”

To purchase books for the Sickle Cell Story Club, check out this wish list.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

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Julia E. LaMotte, PhD

Child & Adolescent Psychiatry