newtown books
The public library in Newtown created a "Books Heal Hearts" program after receiving thousands of donated books from around the country on healing and grief. RNS photo courtesy Ann Marie Somma/HartfordFAVS

Newtown library flooded with grief books after school shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. (RNS)  Four days after a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren and six others inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, boxes of books showed up at the Newtown public library.

Staff at the Cyrenius H. Booth Library, who were just beginning to comprehend the massacre, accepted the boxes from a man who said he was from Aetna headquarters in Hartford.

newtown books

The public library in Newtown created a "Books Heal Hearts" program after receiving thousands of donated books from around the country on healing and grief. RNS photo courtesy Ann Marie Somma/HartfordFAVS

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Kevin Kearney had loaded up his pickup truck to hand-deliver 620 copies of Ellen Sabin's “The Healing Book.” A life insurance manager at Aetna, Kearney felt Sabin's book would be helpful to a community that had experienced one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Kearney had met the author in 2009 at a life insurance conference, and Aetna has since been purchasing and donating her book to bereaved Aetna policyholders, especially families with children. Sabin’s book is structured like an activity journal so that children can express and record their feelings and memories of someone who has died.

“This book stood out for me. It creates a legacy of a lost loved one and it also gives children a process to get through the loss,” Kearney said.

What the library staff didn't know at the time was that Aetna's donation would be the first in a flood of donated books, numbering in the thousands, to arrive at the library in the days and weeks following the Dec. 14 tragedy.

Books have come from all over the country -- from authors, publishers, and ordinary people buying multiple copies of books on that they had found helpful in their grief.

“People are taking the books home by the bagful,” children’s librarian Alana Bennison recently told a woman calling from New York who wanted to donate money to the library to purchase more books.

Soon after the tragedy, Bennison realized the library had to set up a special fund to handle the money and books donated to the library. The outpouring was so overwhelming that she created the “Books Heal Hearts” project where all donated books are given away free of cost to the community and wherever there is a need.

“I know that books can help people get through the darkest times. I knew we needed to give them away to people. People can take them home, write in them and know that they don’t have to give them back,” Bennison said.

There is a book for everyone. Books focus on many different topics and subjects, from proof of heaven to fairies who turn sadness into wonderful things. There are children’s books about a little boy's journey to heaven and back during surgery, and adult books such as Nina Sankovitch's memoir “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair,” about how literature helped her get through her older sister’s death.

Library staff said the most popular donated book is "Tear Soup," a children's book by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen about a woman who suffers a terrible loss and makes tear soup to help her heal.

DeKlyen, who co-authored the book with his mother, said since Dec. 14, more than 1,000 copies of the book have been purchased and donated to the Newtown library, mainly through, a nonprofit he runs with his family in Portland, Ore.

DeKlyen said the response has been so overwhelming that his website is asking for donations to help cover the cost of shipping the books to Newtown.

"The book is universal in that it contains recipes for our healing process through any type of grief from a friend moving away to the shootings in Newtown,” DeKlyen said.

Bennison said the library is overwhelmed with book donations, and asks anyone who wants to donate multiple copies of books to call or email the library first. She said it's important for the community to begin to heal and move past the tragedy.

"We don't want to become a grief memorial library," she said.

(Ann Marie Somma is the editor of Hartford Faith & Values.)



  1. Genuine grief will only be shown when the people of this country demand and obtain legislation that reforms and controls the slaughtering society we have become. What is this sick love affair we display with utilities of murder? Who’s attacking whom?

    The Second Amendment prefaced “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” with the need of “a well regulated militia…to the security of a free state.” That negates all the ravings against reform instigated by slaughter defenders like Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association.

    Even the mentality of hunting as sport ought to be questioned. We do have a food processing industry today, including supermarkets close to homes. We do have cans and jars and bags and boxes. We do have refrigerators and freezers and closets in which to store all these foods. So what questionable motive is satisfied by killing just for the fun of it?

    The Second Amendment was an attempt by the Framers of the Constitution to prevent a recurrence of government dominating its people rather than people forming and controlling their own government as happened with Britain in the colonies. That Second Amendment, as written, made a bit of sense in the time of muskets when we were insulated by vast oceans.

    The U.S. government is now the mightiest nuclear power in the world. That nuclear power against assault rifles and multi-ammo clips is as much of a joke as opposing nuclear bombs with muskets. The U.S. government unconstitutionally wiretaps, imprisons indefinitely without recourse to trial, renditions unwanted people to nations where they know torture is freely practiced, slaughters innocents all over the world with drone planes, all unconstitutionally, all in the name of fighting terror while we create more and more hatred toward us that breeds more and more terror.

    That makes the Second Amendment a farcical archaism! That makes the appeal to the Second Amendment in defense of these slaughtering weapons meaningless. We and our government are farcical archaisms! All the while, we murder on, then we weep, we pray, we send flowers, we light candles–and do nothing real! The domestic and foreign slaughter continue. The hatred and terror continue. The vicious circle keeps spinning and we increasingly live in constant domestic and international terror for our very lives.

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