Award-winning children’s author Patricia MacLachlan said she became very concerned the first time she heard indirectly from her colleague, illustrator and former Sandy Hook resident Steven Kellogg, following the 12/14 tragedy.
“It wasn’t until Steven sent a note through my agent and his, saying, ‘I think I have lost the optimism to do what I do.’ And that struck me as a horrible thing to have happen,” Ms MacLachlan said.
A short time later she was appearing at a school in Connecticut when a second grader asked Ms MacLachlan if she was afraid to come visit because of the shooting.
“I said, ‘Are you?’ and he said ‘Sometimes.’ That’s when I realized he was losing his optimism, too. So in a way, I wrote [Snowflakes Fall] a little for myself, a lot for that little boy, a little for Steven, and for anyone it might [help through the healing process],” Ms MacLachlan admitted.
It wasn’t until the final product was ready for release that the author realized it presented a perspective about the joy of childhood.
“I didn’t want it to be a pedantic thing,” she said. “And you know my own grandchild didn’t even want to talk about [12/14]. But when she reads the book, she sees some of the joy there.”
When the tearful call came from her daughter on the morning of the tragedy, Ms MacLachlan said she wanted to do something, and she later told her son that she only had words to express her feelings about the horrible incidents of that day.
“But he said to just use them,” she recalled.
It wasn’t the author’s immediate reaction to sit down and script the thoughts that became the editorial basis for Snowflakes Fall. As a mother and grandmother, Ms MacLachlan was very sensitive to what Newtown families were going through, although she could not begin to imagine the grief of the immediate victims.
Now that the book is in circulation, the author is approached by many parents with copies to sign. She said she often feels the need to explain that it is not necessarily “a happy winter book.”
“I ask them if they realize who the book is [written] for, and many of them say they not only realize it, but they have lost a child, so it’s very important,” she said. “I’m also getting a lot of positive feedback from children, even though it’s not the kind of book that finds its way to the best seller list.”
Parents, and all residents, will have two opportunities this weekend to meet Ms MacLachlan and Mr Kellogg. The two will be at C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street, on Sunday, December 8, from 1 to 4 pm. They will also be at Big Y World Market on Queen Street on Monday, December 9, from 3 to 5 pm.
Mr Kellogg said because of his almost 35 year association with Newtown, the shock of the news on 12/14 hit him with “particularly severe impact.”
“Because it was a place I knew and loved, and I was very active with the school for a number of years. So when the news came it put a really dark shadow over my outlook on almost everything,” the celebrated illustrator said. He talked about Sandy Hook School and the community as a very safe and secure place to pursue his work and raise his children.
He said for some time he felt very powerless, and realized he had to “deal with the shadows” that haunted him.
“I felt the voice of the children’s book is the only voice I had, and I wanted to begin responding in that voice — dealing with the subject more abstractly and letting my love for Newtown and my concern for the community be a motivating force,” he said. “I wanted to raise that voice as a celebration of the kind of childhood we provided for our family in Sandy Hook.”
Mr Kellogg said he wanted to harken back to the days of watching his own children growing up through the artwork he produced for Snowflakes Fall.
Through his preliminary contacts with Ms MacLachlan, Mr Kellogg said he learned she too wanted to apply her creative gifts to recognize the beauty of the community of Newtown and its residents.
“So we both plunged into the project, and I think we both believe it was a healing experience,” he added.
Mr Kellogg said the first illustration he could bring himself to create actually set the tone for the entire book.
“That was the illustration where children are first introduced. It’s more abstract at first in terms of establishing an environment, and then suddenly there’s double-page spread of children and their dog charging jubilantly across a snow covered field — an image of those wonderful farm fields above Sandy Hook,” he said. “That image came to mind immediately when we started talking about the book — a feeling of joy as well as one of poignant remembrance.”
The illustrator said a surprising amount of collaboration occurred during the process of creating the book, because it is rare in the contemporary world of children’s book production.
“She was particularly open about me making any suggestions or additions to localize any scenes or verses so it would be both specific and general about the joys of raising families in that sort of atmosphere,” he said. “So I wanted to put in the image of the Newtown skyline with the flagpole, the meeting house with the iconic cockerel on top, and the river winding through Sandy Hook.”
Mr Kellogg said since the book’s release, he has been very encouraged by both academic reviewers and readers who communicate that the spirit of the book helps them “appreciate the joy and appreciation of nurturing every child.”
A Touching Revelation
The former Sandy Hook resident said the most touching revelation over his work actually came during the production process.
“What amazed me was the extraordinary collaboration between Patricia and I, because writers and illustrators working together can be a potentially complicated process,” he said. “But we talked on the phone a lot, conveying things that would be conveyed materially and not verbally. And when we didn’t see eye to eye, we kind of worked out a compromise.”
Because of that willing collaboration, Mr Kellogg said he found himself much more engaged in the verbal aspects of the book that would not normally be a prerogative of an illustrator.
“I’m not sure how it worked so well, but it did,” Ms MacLachlan said. “When the art came in I felt much as I do so often — I leave out some of the things I wrote because words are so extraneous — the art tells the story and it doesn’t need to be repetitive. It was a very heartfelt and very unusual collaboration.”
Ms MacLachlan said while they were many miles apart during their respective work on Snowflakes Fall, it was often as though she and Mr Kellogg were working back to back in the same studio.
Ms MacLachlan said that about 95 percent of the book ended up being published as she first imagined it, although Mr Kellogg was responsible for scripting the last two lines: “No two the same – All beautiful.”
“Some of the words and sentences Steven suggested because they meant so much to him. It was collaborative, not just one lording over the other,” she said. “This rarely happens with artists and writers. It was a great experience and I think the book was better for it.”
Ms MacLachlan said she was afraid that some people wanted to forget what happened on 12/14, “but I didn’t want these children to be forgotten.
“I was thinking as a parent, and I thought these children don’t leave spaces that other children move into. They are like unique like snowflakes,” she said. “And it just turned into the theme. It was my hope that this book would keep those children in people’s memories for a long time.”
C.H. Booth Library will have copies of Snowflakes Fall available during the program on Sunday for those who wish to purchase books at that time ($17). Guests are also welcome to bring their own copies with them for signatures. The program is scheduled to take place in the lower meeting room at 25 Main Street.
Big Y is also selling copies of the book at the Newtown location, 6 Queen Street.