For the first months after her daughter’s death, JoAnn Bacon was in a fog. At only six years old, her youngest child went from being a confident, joyful little girl, who preferred wearing her curly red hair in pigtails tied with a pink bow, to the victim of a tragedy that shook the nation. On Dec. 14, 2012, Charlotte Bacon was one of 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
It wasn’t until Feb. 22, the day that would have been Charlotte’s seventh birthday, that JoAnn and her husband, Joel, began to move from mourning the loss of their daughter to celebrating her life. Their friends had arranged an event in which children would be recognized for small acts of kindness under a program they created in Charlotte's honor called Newtown Kindness. “It was hard thinking about what her birthday should have been and what it turned into,” JoAnn says. But seeing about 100 people crammed into a room celebrating their daughter had an unexpected effect. “It really did our hearts good. It was a turning point.” From that moment, the Bacons knew they needed to memorialize their daughter in a way that best represented her short time on earth. They weren’t yet sure how—but they knew it had to involve dogs.
One of Charlotte’s defining personality traits was her deep love of animals, especially dogs. “Charlotte never met an animal she didn't love and since the age of two wanted to be a veterinarian,” her obituary read. JoAnn remembers a routine Charlotte had with their yellow Labrador Retriever, Lily: “Each morning before school, she’d lure Lily into her bedroom and tell her to wait there until she got home. I’d go looking for Lily later and realize she was in Charlotte’s room.” She also enjoyed accompanying Lily to the vet and learning about what the caretakers there do.
Charlotte’s adventures with Lily came alive in a children’s picture book, "Good Dogs, Great Listeners," which JoAnn and Joel published with author Renata Bowers and illustrator Michael Chesworth. The story follows Charlotte, Lily, and a litter of puppies, with illustrations that show Charlotte as her parents remember her, down to the details in her clothes and bedroom. Each copy is wrapped with a single pink bow.
“It was really important for us to capture Charlotte how she was,” JoAnn says. “We didn’t want her to be a face of a tragedy. We wanted her to be remembered for how she lived.”