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December 22, 2012

Crafters send mittens with a message to Newtown

(Continued)

The book’s publisher, Tanglewood Press, has donated the books, along with enough copies of a sequel dealing with Chester’s loss of a playmate for teachers to read aloud.

In “The Kissing Hand,” the tearful boy is heading off to school for the first time, but he begs his mother to stay home. She spreads his tiny fingers and kisses him square in the palm and tells him “whenever you feel lonely and need a little loving from home, just press your hand to your cheek and think, ‘Mommy loves you.’”

The story was first published in 1993 by the Child Welfare League of America, a Washington, D.C.-based coalition of agencies and organizations helping children at risk. Penn had tried and failed for years to get her story of Chester published, until a league official heard Penn read it and decided to take it on.

“At first, no bookstore, no wholesaler would carry it,” said Peggy Tierney, who worked at the league and took Penn with her after starting Tanglewood. “Then kindergarten teachers discovered it, word spread, people started going into stores trying to find copies, then everyone started carrying it, and by 1999 it was on the New York Times best-seller list.”

One of Piscatelli’s first stops in getting her mitten project off the ground was to contact Penn, who lives in Durham, N.C. She recalled reading the story to her own three kids when they were younger.

Penn, who lost a brother to drowning when she was 13, signed off on the combined book-mitten project as soon as Piscatelli contacted her.

“When I saw the news, my heart was just torn in half. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe. Enough is enough is enough,” the writer said.

Penn’s 2009 sequel, called “Chester the Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories,” has Chester the boy raccoon working through the death of a friend, Skiddil Squirrel, who has an accident. Chester’s teacher tells his class Skiddil won’t return to school, so Chester and his mother venture to a butterfly pond where the squirrel loved to play to discover some acorns Skiddil left there have sprouted into young trees.

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