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Too Many Tears- Newtown 5 Years Later Part Three

Learning to be kind

The question goes to this: How do you write a children’s book, for children to read, about the massacre of children? You write an allegory. I chose to write about Trees. How the townspeople of Newtown so loved nature and greenery and trees, that they all got together to grow these trees that they planted, and watered, and nutured and protected, and watched grow from little trees into big trees with their tender branches reaching up to the big blue sky. Then a sad and angry little boy goes into the park, and cuts down all the trees with his father’s chainsaw. The story then describes how the town reacts and tries to heal with support from all over the world.

I worked with a publishing company to get my book in print, working with several of their artists until I found the style I was looking for and told them how I wanted the characters portrayed. I sent them photographs of the General Store and several of the churches in town so residents would recognize their town. The book was for them, for the impacted families, and the people of Newtown.

I sent the text for Carole to read, she would know if my words would heal or offend. She loved it, and was amazed how I covered the most difficult subject in a way that adults would read it one way, knowing the facts of the tragedy, while children would read it as a tale about a bad little boy who came to an untimely end. One of the trees he cuts down falls on him and his mother killing them both. When I read the story to a group of children, a six-year-old asked me, “Mr. Frank, do you think you could write another book, but this time the bully doesn’t get killed, but learns to be nice?” Wow.

Once the book was completed, I was quite pleased with the final product, and ordered copies in both hard cover and soft. I made a trip to Newtown to donate 26 copies to the impacted families and drop a few more copies to the General Store and the town library. Over the years I have literally given away many more copies than I have sold. This was, after all, a work of the heart. I have tried to circulate to a wider area, giving interviews to local newspapers and even a local radio program. I have reached out to NPR and Oprah and Ellen…nothing. I paid extra for six months of marketing. Nothing. I have attended conferences and book conventions. Nothing. Everybody who sees my book, and reads my book is genuinely touched, but how to get it in the hands of more people, to touch more lives. That is the challenge.

So I just tell people I know about it, and people I meet about it, and I hand out my business card with the cover of Newtown’s Trees on one side, and my contact information on the other. I blog, I post information about my website on my Facebook Page, even started a separate Author Page….Still waiting, hoping for some opportunity to get my book in the hands of people who will appreciate its message of hope and recovery. I even have a Parent’s Guide in front that talks about how to talk to children about tragedy.

There is literally not a trace of the former Sandy Hook School left on the site of the tragedy. The building was razed and the rubble carried off to an undisclosed location. Even the school desks from the classrooms and chairs were run through an industrial shredder so one wouldn’t appear on eBay. The old school is gone.

On the same campus, a different footprint, a new school was built. A $50 Million gift from the State of Connecticut to the good people of Newtown. State of the Art Security doesn’t begin to describe this magnificent structure. With perimeter fences and a gate down by the firehouse, no one gets on the property without clearance. Sensors in the ground set off alarms were someone to scale a fence. There’s over 300 cameras on the site monitored by two full time police officers. All the glass is high up and doors are all bullet-proof. The place is as secure as can be while remaining a warm and inviting facility. It is, after all a place for children.

I followed the building program as the project neared completion ready for the start of the 2016-17 school year. Parents who lost children at the old building had a choice to enroll the siblings in the new Sandy Hook School, or attend another school in the district. There were kindergartners who were born just after the tragedy, whose older siblings died, whose parents enrolled their children at the new school. Others preferred to stay as far away from there as possible.

When I read how the new school was designed and developed by parents, and community members and other stakeholders, there was a decision to design the building around a central theme. One about growth, and renewal, and life itself. They decided to design the building around TREES. I was thunderstruck. The book I wrote about the tragedy two years earlier in 2014 was called "Newtown’s Trees," and here was the new school all about TREES.

I wrote the Superintendent of the Newtown School District about how we had sent the wreaths, and visited after the tragedy, then again when I had my book published. I sent him a copy of my book and asked if it might be possible for me to visit the new school and maybe donate a copy to the Sandy Hook School Media Center. He wrote back thanking me and telling me how much he loved the book, how everyone in the office loved the book and would I be available to come tour the school in October? We did just that last year, Coletta, Sade and I, and he told me to bring enough copies for every school in the Newtown District. I was all too glad to do it. It was one of my proudest moments.

The school was magnificent, with tall ceilings like the tops of trees, with stained glass windows and tree motifs everywhere, in sculptures and wall art and in the wooden exterior and interior walls. A completely safe and secure building that was warm and welcoming at the same time with artwork fashioned by the students.

On the last page of my book there’s a passage that describes how the townspeople replanted their trees and made a new park:

“It took a long time, but every day the park grew prettier and prettier, and the trees and the plants grew higher and higher, until one day, the park was a happy place once again. It wasn’t the same as it was before. It couldn’t be. It was different. But in some ways it was nicer, and people were happier because they remembered what they had before, and how sad they were when it was taken from them. That made them appreciate what they now had all that much more. And they were kinder to each other.”

On a wall just off the main hallway was a large green mosaic. In each of a hundred or more smaller pieces of glass and in large black letters in the center were two words: BE KIND.

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