The children of the Sandy Hook Elementary School were visited by 12 children’s authors and illustrators on Tuesday, the school’s first assembly program since moving into its new building following the December 14, 2012 shooting that took the lives of 26 children and staff at the school.
The event, which was delayed by a day after 30 inches of snow fell in the area, was selected “because we wanted to focus on teaching and learning,” Principal Donna Page tells School Library Journal.
Fairfield-based Susan Hood and Newtown resident Bruce Degan, creator of The Magic School Bus (Scholastic) series, filled in for author/illustrators who had conflicts with the rescheduling.
Planning for the event took shape immediately following the tragedy, when Marc Tyler Nobleman reached out to Isabel Almeida at the United Way of Western Connecticut and offered to organize the group visit as part of the process of returning to normalcy. Nobleman is author of more than 70 books, including Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman (Charlesbridge, 2012).
Normalcy was evident when Tad Hills, Bob Shea, Katie Davis, and Mike Rex visited kindergarteners who welcomed the visitors with smiling faces and the enthusiasm of any 5 year old. “You are a good drawer,” exclaimed one kindergartner, as Bob Shea created various animals from jellybean-shaped figures. “I have a book of yours at home,” said another, when Tad Hills shared the trick of drawing his famous duck from his Duck and Goose (Schwartz & Wade) books.
The only reminders of the December tragedy noticeable by visitors are the many snowflakes sent to the school from around the country, and hand prints on the wall of the lecture center from places like Winchell Elementary School in Kalamazoo, MI, and the Queen Anne’s County HS in Sudlersville, MD.
The class visits were followed by two assemblies to grades 1-3 where the group presented an author/illustrator variety show complete with a guitar and song solo from Daniel Kirk, the creator of the Library Mouse (Abrams) series. Silly poems and songs followed from Alan Katz, author of Take Me Out of the Bathtub (S&S, 2001). Vincent Kirsch brought a toy theater to retell the story of his book The Chandeliers (FSG, 2012). And Tracy Dockray did a hip-hop reading of Fran Manuskin’s The Tushy Book (Feiwel, 2008), which Dockray illustrated.
Non-fiction then took center stage when Meghan McCarthy demonstrated how she uses You Tube to help with her research on topics such as bubble gum, aliens, and astronauts.
“Anytime we can have authors and illustrators in front of kids is a good thing,” says Yvonne Cech, the school librarian who helped coordinate the day. “So many of our students are writing and drawing their own stories and it’s inspiring to have these people here.”
The group also visited the other elementary schools in the district and met with teachers.