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Unable to talk about Katrina, kids draw

Last spring, after breaking her hip in a fall at home in Wellesley, Folly Shaffer traveled to Baton Rouge to stay with a friend as she recuperated. Within a couple of months, Shaffer was helping others heal -- the youngest victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The 59-year-old therapist signed up with Health Care Centers in Schools in Baton Rouge, which was looking for social workers to help with the influx of students from New Orleans.

''They had no structure or protocol, but had funding for three months to place nine licensed mental health workers to help the children," said Shaffer, who is trained in stress relaxation, art therapy, music therapy, and meditation. That three-month stint turned into a year.

''I'm in a school system with traumatized children who have lost everything," she said. ''They have terrible stories and are not able to verbalize their experiences."

An 11-year-old girl spent three days on the rooftop of her home with her parents, grandmother, and five siblings, one of them an infant. ''Helicopters would pass them by," Shaffer said. ''They saw dead bodies floating below them, and when they were finally rescued they were dumped off near a dark bridge."

Shaffer leads weekly group sessions with the children. She starts out by asking each child to draw a memory of the storm, then invites them to talk about even the tiniest details in their pictures. Shaffer's lessons extend far beyond the walls of the classroom.

''Connecting vocabulary words to the feelings is very empowering," Shaffer said. At last, she said, they sense that others understand what they've been through.

''I can tell you from the work of some of the high school students, that they become grateful for life itself," Shaffer said. ''Instead of lamenting about what they don't have, they start out with a fresh perspective on their existence, which is gratitude for being alive."

Shaffer, whose real name is Florence, picked up the name Folly while attending Drew University, where she majored in English literature with a minor in psychology. After earning a master's degree in library science at Simmons College, she worked for the Boston Public Library in children's literature and programming.

Shaffer then stayed home for nearly 20 years to raise a son and daughter. After a divorce in 1992, she and her daughter moved to Nantucket, where Shaffer worked as a doctor's receptionist and in an art gallery, among other jobs.

''During that period I had a lot of time to reflect on how I wanted to spend the rest of my life to give it purpose and meaning," Shaffer said. At 49, she enrolled in a graduate program at Lesley University, receiving her master's in counseling and psychology in 2001.

Shaffer says she can't help thinking that she was fated to fall down the stairs of her home last spring, that she was meant to help the children of the storm.

To learn how to help Health Care Centers in Schools go to www.healthcareinschools.org or call 225-765-6689.

BOOKSELLING AND THE WEB: In the world of books, Ken Gloss has experienced it all, from selling a page of a 1456 Gutenberg Bible to watching a customer who snacks on Bibles.

''Only the Douay editions," said Gloss without cracking a smile. ''She sits up there when we're not looking, rips pages out and eats them. We've seen her do it."

Now Gloss is encountering the biggest challenge in the more than half-century his family has owned Boston's Brattle Book Shop: the Internet. The 56-year-old Newton resident likens its impact to that of Gutenberg's invention of movable type half a millennium ago.

''Instead of monks sitting in monasteries copying out books, printed books could be distributed in larger numbers," said Gloss. ''In the Renaissance, it literally changed the way people got knowledge and information for the better."

Gloss predicts that within a decade most storefront used book shops will be gone, as shoppers abandon them for the convenience of the Web.

''Now you can go click-click and find 50 copies of something," Gloss said. Bookshop browsers no longer feel that they need to snap up a title for fear they might never see it again. Instead, they think, ''I can go on the Internet, and there will be a bunch of them."

But while the Internet may affect his walk-in trade, it has expanded his customer base to the world. The store, which is located downtown just off the Common, receives 150 e-mails a day. It just shipped a 1936-1972 set of Life magazines to China.

As anyone who receives e-mail can appreciate, not all the correspondence is on the up and up.

''I always get the one requesting a hundred copies of a book 'for my little village in Nigeria.' Then they want our bank information so they can send us money," said Joyce Kosofsky, Gloss's wife.

Ken Gloss will speak at a free lecture 7 p.m. on May 11 at the main branch of the Wellesley Library, 530 Washington St. For more on the Brattle Book Shop, visit www.brattlebookshop.com.

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