Mid-Columbia Libraries unveils collection in memory of Kennewick girl

To say Tatum Jackson loved to read would be an understatement, said her father, Darren Jackson.

“It would be an hour or an hour-and-a-half before she should be up and I’d see the light on in her bedroom,” he said. “I’d go in and see her curled up with a stack of books on her bed.”

Annette Jackson, Darren’s wife and Tatum’s mother, remembered how her daughter’s love of books made the Kennewick branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries seem like a second home.

“We spent hours here. The movies, the elementary hour, anything there was to do,” she said.

So it was that fitting her parents were on hand Tuesday for the unveiling of a library collection of more than 300 children’s books bought with donations provided in the 7-year-old’s memory. The Kennewick girl died last February from complications of a gastrointestinal disorder.

“Because of this effort, Tatum’s life has touched so many of us,” said Kyle Cox, executive director for Mid-Columbia Libraries.

Tatum was diagnosed with encopresis, a condition affecting bowel control, at the age of 4. She’d struggled with the condition since she was 2.

She died Feb. 26 after undergoing a new treatment for the disorder that ended up further straining her body.

Despite her condition, Tatum’s parents said she was an imaginative and eager child. The second-grader also loved going to Ridge View Elementary School. Reading was a part of her life from the beginning, a passion she inherited from her parents.

It was in the days after Tatum’s death that her family, encouraged by a friend, began telling people to donate money to the library in the little girl’s memory in lieu of buying flowers. Michael Huff, the library district’s collections director, said there are a number of memorial funds that the district uses to buy new books each year.

But in this case, the library district approached the Jackson family about helping choose the books purchased in Tatum’s memory. Titles include Antoine de Sainte-Exupery’s The Little Prince, books by Dr. Seuss, entries in the Pete The Cat series and titles by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It’s a mix of books Tatum loved in life and what librarians think she would have gravitated toward based on her tastes.

“A lot of these are books that have been around for decades. I remember reading them,” Cox said. “They’re titles that are well loved.”

The books won’t all remain at the Union Street branch. They’ll be dispersed through all the library district’s branches, each emblazoned with specially designed nameplates depicting a girl reading under a tree, a design recalling the tree Tatum frequently sat and read under at her family’s home.

“Tatum had such a love for reading and was never happier then when curled up with her nose buried in a book,” the bookplate reads. “This book collection was selected for all to enjoy, with Tatum in mind.”

Library officials also gave the Jacksons a quilt bearing Tatum’s signature. Union Street branch manager Jessie Tomren said she found it while working in a storage area. The quilt was a library project that was part of a series of exhibitions from the Smithsonian related to personal stories and histories.

“The timing was so perfect,” Tomren said.

Tatum’s parents said this won’t be the only time their daughter’s memories bring books to children. They are committed to donating money to the collection twice a year on her July 11 birthday and the anniversary of her death to replace damaged books in the collection and to add new volumes. Most of all, they were glad to have such a tribute to their daughter.

“Thank you for being here,” Annette told Tuesday’s crowd. “And check out books.”