Storybooks Come to Life Through Special Bond Between Girl Scout and HCDE Occupational Therapist Assistant

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June 13, 2018 by HCDE Communications

Girl Scout and West University teen Katie Crabb grew up with a love for reading and can’t imagine living in a world without books. Harris County Department of Education occupational therapy assistant Mary Canada works with children with severe auditory, visual and cognitive disabilities and always looks for ways to allow her students to experience the joy of the printed page.

Together, an unlikely friendship formed as Crabb was looking for a Gold Award project to serve the community and Canada had an idea of how to bring books alive to children with severe learning issues.

Crabb, a 17-year old from Carnegie Vanguard School in Houston Independent School District, finessed   20 “books in a bag,” packaged storybooks complete with auditory and sensory devices which help low-functioning students experience learning through touch, hearing and even smell.

Canada thought of creating the book bags after seeing the idea online from a speech language pathologist in the United Kingdom. Canada reported phenomenal success using the book bag in her classroom. Behaviors changed. Nonreactive children began to respond. The book bags had a decidedly positive effect.

A thrifty, resourceful and imaginative Crabb finds the books on sale and buys most of the objects that fill the bags from the dollar store. A carwash funded most of her purchases.

The book Little Red Hen weaves a tale of the virtues of hard work through plastic farm animals, two plastic eggs, a bread pan with beater and bowl. Goodnight Moon provides a tiny mouse that jingles along with a big moon that lights up. Many of the books have aromatic qualities that help children experience stories through smell.

“It’s a community effort, really,” said Canada, a 24-year HCDE occupational therapy assistant from Cypress, Texas who retires this year.

Canada hangs the bags on a clothes rack created by her husband so that occupational therapists who work in Cy-Fair ISD can check them out and use them in the classroom. Objects are sterilized after each use. Together, Canada and Crabb’s books number over 30. Plans include housing some of the books at Harris County Department of Education so they may be used by HCDE therapists in the 24 school districts and charter schools which Therapy Services serves.

HCDE provides school-based physical and occupational therapy to approximately 7,500 students in school districts throughout greater Harris County. The 160 therapists work with students and collaborate with teachers and others so that students with disabilities can be successful in the school environment.

The book bags are fast-becoming part of the success story and will now travel from district to district as needed.

“I really wanted to do this project because I always loved reading,” said Crabb. “I was always stuck in my able-bodied world, so now I want to impact these kids’ lives in a positive way.”

For more information about HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services, visit

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