Baldwin library to display books in honor of Sandy Hook children
Catherine Hubbard was known for her red hair and freckled cheeks.
Her schoolmate, Dylan Hockley, recently moved to the United States. He loved video games, eating garlic bread and playing with his older brother on the trampoline.
Charlotte Bacon was excited to wear her pink dress and boots, purchased for the holidays, so she coaxed her mother into letting her wear the outfit in mid-December, on what became her last day of school.
Each of the 20 first-graders killed during the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., had unique hopes and ambitions. Some were bubbly; others were shy. Some enjoyed playing outside with horses. Others preferred their iPads.
Books capturing the characteristics of each child soon will be displayed in the Baldwin Borough Public Library. Patron donations prompted library staffers to start the Sandy Hook “Angel Book Collection,” in which a children's book will be purchased in honor of each child killed. Patrons have bought seven of the 20 books so far.
“This is just so people know that these kids won't be forgotten and that they live on in a book,” said library clerk Tracy Bakowski, who is helping to organize the project.
Shortly after the shooting, Alan and Barbara Provolt gave the library $50 “in memory of the 20 little angels.”
Though people often send money for books to honor family members who died or to recognize a child's birthday or communion, library director Joyce Chiappetta said this memorial surprised her — after all, the shooting occurred so far away.
Chiappetta showed the donation card to staffers, who decided to start a library-wide collection honoring the children. Donations will pay for the books, which will contain a memorial for the child and a small, pink angel on the front.
Using information from the North Wales Area Library in Pennsylvania, which is running a similar program, Bakowski began to organize Baldwin's collection.
No one answered calls at the main library in Newtown but Brookfield Library nearby gave support for the project, she said.
“It's a dedication for their children. I wanted to make sure that they were OK with it,” Bakowski said. “They liked this, because they're getting inundated with books from all over the place. I think they have their hands full up there.”
The books selected to honor these children had to connect with each child's likes and interests, she said. On the list is one book — “Peace,” by Wendy Anderson Halperin — honoring the adults and teachers killed in the shooting.
“We didn't just want to order any book for a person, because that's easy to do,” she said. “If a child was known to be musical, we picked a book about music. If a child was known to be shy, we picked a book about that. If a child was new at the school, we picked a book that they would have liked.”
Bakowski spent a week researching the youngsters' interests. Using a Dec. 31 issue of People magazine, she paired their likes with top sellers on a list from the School Library Journal.
“I would do three kids, cry, and go sit back down and do three more,” Bakowski said. “It was hard.”
But Chiappetta said they wanted to ensure the books would “not only tie into the victim's lives, but also be books that our kids would want to pick up and read. And then they would see the Sandy Hook memorial and make the connection.”
The memorial is meant to trigger a reaction, Chiappetta said.
“We hope that people will realize that mental illness is such a destructive thing and it needs to be treated,” she said.
Pictures of the children and Sandy Hook teachers and administrators are displayed inside the entrance of the library, with brief descriptions of their lives. Though most visitors said they're moved by the idea of the collection, there have been a few naysayers.
“It's just too much for some people to handle,” Bakowski said of looking at the children's faces. “They're so adorable.”
Many giving money for the book collection are making a connection between the Sandy Hook children and their own lives, Bakowski said.
“You want to do something for them,” said Barbara Provolt, 70, who has young nephews. “You think of their families. They're just so young. It just breaks your heart.”
Bakowski, a first grade CCD teacher at St. Albert the Great parish in Baldwin Borough, purchased a book honoring Hubbard. The young girl's red hair and freckles reminded Bakowki of her middle son's features.
“When something like this happens, you always think, ‘What can you do?'” Bakowski said. “This is just what you do.”
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.