When the faces of tragedy are twenty angelic 6 and 7 year old babies and their six heroic school faculty, such as the world has seen from Sandy Hook Elementary School in my home state of Connecticut, our hearts bleed for them. Nothing can turn back time to help those 20 children in that terrible moment. Our prayers and gifts and wearing their school colors of green and white seem tokens only, insufficient to lessen the heavy load of grief born by all who have heard this news.
As a writer, I am reflecting back only a month or two to a conference in which I heard author Bruce Coville discuss a spiritual lack among today's kids and the responsibility children's authors have to lift them to a mountaintop. His words were, "Our work has the potential to change the world in ways we can't imagine." A ripple effect that comes from an author's character or story or single line in a book impacting a child's life in unimaginable, better ways. To paraphrase Coville's ideas, our work as children's writers is to honor and celebrate children in a way today's world simply has failed to do, a world in which media hound them as consumers and celebrate violence. Like Obama said in his vigil speech to the devastated community of Newtown, Connecticut, this must stop. Writers of literature for children have the opportunity and responsibility to lift our children, to challenge them to higher ideals, and to cause each to feel valued, treasured, and with an assurance that their life has meaning.
Think of a time in your life when you felt alone, or lonely in a crowd, or plain old disagreeable with everyone in sight. How many times did you turn to a book to fill that empty space? A book that made you feel that someone understood what you were going through? A book that took you out of your sad/angry/hard place and put you in a fantasy to escape for a while? A book whose main character became a best friend when you were sorely lacking in one?
A book doesn't solve the problems of the world by any means, but as Bruce Coville so eloquently pointed out at the Rutgers One-on-One plus Conference in October this year, even single lines in one can truly be a life-changer. He mentioned a reader telling him years later that a line or two from a single page out of a science fiction story he read as a young student caused him to seek out the Peace Corps as a career years later.
We don't know what sparked this terrible tragedy, but I pray that those responsible for developing products for children be aware that they are shaping precious little lives with every detail. God bless those who are suffering from this and all-too-similar tragedies.