By Melissa Arnold
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Chris Brady, 33, of Rocky Point, was profoundly impacted by the events of that day and has spent the past three years developing “Twenty-Six Angels,” a children’s book inspired by those who died. The book was published on Nov. 13, and Brady hopes it will inspire children and adults alike to spread peace in our world.
I recently sat down with Brady to learn more about the book and what he hopes for the future.
Tell me a bit about your background. What got you interested in writing?
I’ve always had an artist’s spirit. Writing has always been my way of chronicling my life. I have a book of probably a hundred poems that have gotten me through so many experiences. But I always wanted to be an actor and singer, so those things were always in the forefront. I’ve worked in retail and in the fitness industry, and also have a master’s degree in health care administration. Writing is kind of my hidden talent, but this story was something I needed to share.
How would you describe the book to someone who hasn’t read it?
It covers the theme of nonviolence and how the power of youth can combat evil in any circumstance. It’s about putting down your weapons, whether that’s guns, negative emotions or poor treatment of others.
In the book, the halos of angels light up when they sing. That light banishes everything evil in the world. When the book begins, there aren’t enough angels and the world is in despair. Then, 26 new angels are born. They face a lot of doubt from the older angels, but they’re given a try and are sent to bring a message of peace and nonviolence to the world.
I stayed away from any kind of religious elements. I chose to use angels because of the way they’re glorified in our culture, and there’s something cherubic about children. I thought it would be a nice symbol to use.
What inspired you to write about the Sandy Hook tragedy?
(The day of the shooting), I remember pulling my car over and listening to all the broadcasts. I was fixated on them. It was horrible listening to parents wondering if their child was alive, and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through. On 9/11, I was downtown (in New York City) and used writing to work through that, so it’s not surprising that I felt the need to write about this as well.
I was the choreographer for three years at Rocky Point Middle School and worked with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The book was partially linked to that experience of collaborating on an art that teaches the students to use their talents in a positive way.
Having worked with middle schoolers, I asked myself, what would I say to these kids? I’ve found myself suffering through tragedy and trying to cope with things I couldn’t understand, and I thought about what I would say to a younger me, as well as the families and loved ones of children who have lost their lives.
There’s something so unbelievably pure about first-graders. I told myself there has to be a way to brighten people’s lives in the absence of these children, and it’s happening. You can choose to either wallow in the darkness or make something brighter out of life. This was my way of balancing out the darkness with light and combat unspeakable evil with incredible good.
Obviously, one story can’t fix everything. But if we continue to give back to the people left behind, light really will shine through that darkness.
Who is the ideal audience for “Twenty-six Angels”?
The book says ages 4 to 8, but I really think it would be appropriate for kids 6 to 10 or even 6 to 12. It can speak to all children and has a timeless feel. The poetry is a little bit elevated, but because it’s singsong (in style) and rhymes, it’s easy for young children to grab onto. I read the book to a group of 4-year-olds and they definitely understood the message, which was great to see. Beyond that, it’s really for anybody looking for comfort. I’ve had an equally strong response from adults and children.
The book is written entirely in rhyme. Why did you choose this format?
With this subject and the idea of creating a song together, I thought rhyme would be most effective for the message.
How can parents or other adults use this book to help the children in their lives?
The first thing that you can teach a child is the difference between play and reality. We can play pirates and Jedis, but they really have no business with a weapon. That might be an unpopular opinion for some, but it’s what I believe. All of us are capable of violence, and children need to learn to channel their passions in a positive way.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping to take any proceeds from the book and use them to help the people of Newtown in any way I can. I learned recently that many people are just showing up there to help out. This book belongs first and foremost in the hands of the people affected by the tragedy. It’s not about the profits for me.
Where can we get the book? How much is it?
You can find the book at all of the major online retailers, as well was www.archwaypublishing.com. The more interest there is, the more likely we’ll be to get it on shelves in the future, too. It’s available in hardcover for $22.95, softcover for $16.95 and as a digital ebook for $3.99.
Where can people learn more about you or contact you?
You can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more on the book’s Facebook page, “TwentySix Angels Children’s Book Launch.”
Chris Brady will hold a book signing on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, at 11 a.m. For more information, call 631-928-9100.