He warned the children to back away as he topped a cheeseburger with 18 meal worms. “One, two, three …” Mill Creek librarian Mickey Gallagher counted slowly. “I should have made you all sign wavers: ‘In case the librarian throws up on me, I promise not to file a lawsuit.”
He reached into a container marked “pet food” and revealed the 18th worm.
The children jumped to their feet, shrieking as Gallagher replaced the bun on his burger.
He gave it a good squish with the palm of his hand and raised the sandwich to his mouth.
“Eat it, eat it,” the children shouted Thursday morning, Aug. 21. “Eat the worms.”
Hands shaking, eyes closed — the celebrity librarian took an enormous bite, fulfilling his promise to eat one worm per 100 children in the library’s summer reading program.
“I couldn’t even taste them,” he said later on. “That’s why I got a cheeseburger with bacon and onions. What if they were really horrible?”
Gallagher knew the scheme would coax a few unfamiliar book worms into the library. But more than a few, he enrolled a whopping 1,800 children in this year’s program.
“That’s the most we’ve ever had,” Gallagher said, beaming. “We really want to get them to continue reading through the summer, anything we can do to encourage that we’ll do. I came up with the worms because our theme this year was gardens. I thought, ‘This is perfect.’”
Gallagher promoted the summer reading program this year to thousands of local school children, including 6-year-old Eva Koutelieris.
“I would never eat a worm,” Eva said. She wrinkled her nose, “They’re squishy and slimy and they’re covered with dirt.”
Disgusted or not, the librarian’s promise was all she could talk about after Gallagher visited her classroom.
“She told me all about it — Mickey’s pledge — and how excited she was to go to the library,” Eva’s mother, Dianna Koutelieris said. “She loves reading but it was mostly about the worms.”
There’s no question about it. Gallagher has a way with young people. He knows just the right jokes and just the right stories to keep them happy and entertained for hours. Even toddlers keep still in his presence. Mothers call him the rock star of the Mill Creek Library — the best in the district.
“He ate worms, for crying out loud. He totally gets kids,” Mill Creek mother-of-two Kim Wilson said. “I’ve never met a better librarian and I’ve been a librarian. I use him all the time to reference material for my kids. When they see him outside the library they get so excited. He’s just amazing.”
Gallagher demonstrated on Thursday the lengths he will go to capture young readers. He’s already thinking of scheme for next year.
“I’m just crossing my fingers that next year’s theme will have nothing to do with snakes,” he said laughing. “I’ll come up with something. Don’t worry about that.”