Rachel’s Promise – Book Two in the Rachel Trilogy

Rachel's Promise9781927583142_p0_v1_s260x420Rachel’s Promise

Shelly Sanders, Author

Second Story Press, Historical Fiction, Sept. 23, 2013

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes:  Persecution, Russian Jews,  Family, Love, Loss, Separation

SynopsisRachel’s Promise is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where tensions run high between the Jewish and Christian populations. Vicious riots break out in Kishinev in 1903.  Rachel’s father is killed and her home and Jewish community destroyed.   Her Christian friend Sergei turns against his police chief father, to help 15-year-old Rachel.  (Read my review of Rachel’s Secret here.) Rachel, her mother, sister Nucia, and an adopted brother, Menahem, flee Russia and the brutal riots.  They travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway to the coast where they board a ship to Shanghai, China.  The journey is hard on her mother and she dies in a Shanghai medical facility.  Now it is up to Rachel and her siblings to earn enough money to travel to America.  Although her life becomes one of daily survival, she never gives up her dream of going to school and becoming a journalist.   She discovers a Jewish newspaper in Shanghai and submits articles, earning extra money for the voyage.

Meanwhile, as Rachel flees Russia, Sergei leaves home for a factory job in St. Petersburg to help support his family and earn money to attend the university.  Work in the Russian factories is deplorable and dangerous.  Sergei is injured.  His dream of becoming an architect fades as he realizes the harsh reality of his life.  He joins the growing number of factory workers who are rebelling against the government.  Although separated, Sergei and Rachael continue to communicate through letters and hang on to hope they will be together again.

Why I like this book:  This is the second book in the Rachel Trilogy written by Shelly Sanders.  The trilogy is inspired by the lives of her maternal grandmother, Rachel Talan Geary, and her sister Anna “Nucia” Rodkin, who lived in Kishinev and survived the massacres in 1903.  Sanders has once again written a gripping story set against real historical events.  She tells the story of the Russian Jews who managed to escape Russia under incredible odds to new lives filled with hardship in Shanghai.  Many of the characters in this story did exist.  I learned so much about a period of Russian history I knew little about.  Sanders beautifully balances the alternating stories of Sergei and Rachel, who are mere teenagers caught in the cross-fire of persecution during extreme political upheaval.  Her main characters are authentic, with each having a very distinct voice.  The book is a page-turner.

Visit Shelly Sander’s at her website.  I look forward to her third upcoming novel in the trilogy, Rachel’s Hope.  After two years in Shanghai, Rachael and her family save enough money to pay for passage on a ship sailing to San Francisco.  Follow her journey and new life in America.

America’s White Table

America's White 9781585362165_p0_v2_s260x420America’s White Table

Margot Theis Raven, Author

Mike Benny, Illustrator

Sleeping Bear Press, Fiction, 2005

Suitable for Ages: 5-10

Themes: Veterans Day, Remembering our fallen soldiers, Symbolism

Synopsis:  It is Veterans Day and Katie’s mother has invited her Uncle John for dinner.  She explains to Katie and her two sisters that they will  be setting a separate little table,  just like the ones that will be set in  Air Force, Army, Marine Corps and Navy dining halls across America to honor the men and women who have served their country.  Mama gets out a white table-cloth,  a single empty  chair, a white plate, silver ware, a black napkin, an overturned glass, a white candle and a red rose in a vase tied with a red ribbon.  She explains the significance of each item on the table, and what it will mean to Uncle John.

Much to Katie and her sister’s surprise, they learn a special story about their favorite uncle from their mother.  Uncle John was on a rescue mission in Vietnam when his helicopter was shot down over enemy territory.  He was taken as a Prisoner of War (POW).  Uncle John found an opportunity to escape and carried his wounded friend on his back to safety.  He was a hero.

Katie and her sisters are in awe when they hear the story.  Katie stares at the little white table and feels there is something missing.  The girls come up with a special idea and surprise their uncle at dinner.  Uncle John is moved beyond words by their loving gesture.

Why I like this book:  Once again I am sharing a book I reviewed several years ago before I had following.  This is an outstanding book that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.  It is a time to remember and honor those who are not with us.  I was delighted to find a book about this very simple, but deeply meaningful tradition observed by service members for over 35 years.  Few civilians are familiar with the symbolism.  It seemed the perfect book to share again on Veterans Day.  Raven tells a moving story, and at the end  provides a detailed history of the origin of the White Table and how it became a symbol of caring for our MIA and POW service members after the Vietnam War.  Benny’s subdued pastel paintings add to the mood of the solemn occasion that transcends generations.

Resource:  Click here to lean how to set America’s White Table.  Also visit Margot Theis Raven at her website.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

The Fantastic FLying Books174515865The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

William Joyce, author

Joe Bluhm, illustrator

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 4-8

Themes:  Books, Love, Loss, Healing, Aging

Opening and brief synopsis“Morris Lessmore loved words.  He loved stories.  He loved books.  His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another.  He would open it every morning and write of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew and everything that he hoped for.”  One day there was a very bad storm that blew so hard that he lost his home and all the books he loved so much.  Not knowing what to do he started walking.  A lady drifted through the sky pulled by a bouquet of books.  The lady tossed down her favorite book and beckoned him to follow her to a strange building that housed books.  But the books in the building weren’t ordinary — they were extraordinary.   Many books required repair.  Morris started to restore and care for the books.  Some times he got lost in the books.  Morris shared the books with people.  And, once again he began to write in his own book.

Why I love this book:  The book is about life experiences — love, loss and healing.  Adults will enjoy this book.  It is a brilliant book that took William Joyce 13 years to write.  The book began as a tribute to a friend, but after Hurricane Katrina devastated  Joyce’s home state, his book was put on hold.  Joyce visited children in shelters and saw firsthand the healing power of books.  So the storm in the book is a combination of Katrina and the cyclone in the Wizard of Oz.   Joe Bluhm’s illustrations are stunning.  Bluhm uses brown hues similar to the opening of Oz, to give the stark effect of the storm in the book.  As Morris wanders, the book is full of colorful and expressive  illustrations.

Resources:  There are many themes that parents  and teachers can explore when reading this book with a children.   Since the idea grew out of Hurricane Katrina and the tragic losses, it would be a good time to discuss with kids what it means to lose everything and how you rebuild lives with the love and help of family and community.   Donated books were an escape for the kids of Katrina.  We’ve once again experienced devastation with Hurricane Isaac.  As a family you may want to donate to a reputable charity.   Another way to help displaced children in your community is to have your kids donate used books to local organizations.  The book also is about imagination and reading.  Be creative and encourage your kids to make a mobile of their favorite book cover titles to hang in their room, similar to the flying woman and the books.

Visit William Joyce at his website.  Joyce first won an Academy Award for his short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, then turned the film into this imaginative book.  I’ve include a short clip of the video, but the entire film is available on YouTube.   The book also is available as an iPad app.

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To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Books to Help Your Child with Grief

When a child faces the death of a loved one, especially a parent or family member, the support system is disrupted.  It is essential that families find new ways to communicate, express their feelings of grief and honestly answer questions a child may have.  Some children are verbal, others hold their feelings in.  One way to help address a child’s loss is through story books.  The key is in helping a child realize that he/she is not alone.  I will share a few favorites with you.

I Miss You:  A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas, and published by Barron’s Educational Series, 2001.  This book helps children (and adults, too) deal with the loss of loved ones.   The author gently explains the life cycles. “Death is a natural part of life. All living things grow, change and eventually die.”  The child will view a dying tree, and a fallen bird. When the book reaches human loss, there’s a question at the bottom of the page where the author gives the child the opportunity to discuss his/her own loss by asking, “What about you? Has anyone you know died? How did they die?” Likening one’s soul to a raindrop that joins other raindrops in the ocean is beautiful.   At the end of the book is a section on how to use the book, a short glossary and  resources for grief support.

Saying Goodbye to Daddy, by Judith Vigna, and published by Albert Whitman & Co., 1991.    This is a good book to use when there has been a sudden death.  When Clara is picked up early from school by her grandfather, she doesn’t understand that something terrible has happened to her father.  Clara learns about her father’s death and what happens afterwards.  Grief, loneliness, anger and confusion follow.  Her family helps her work through her feelings and fears.  Due to family support, Clara reaches a place of peace by the end of the book.

Rain Came Down,  by David Shannon, and published by Blue Sky Press, 2000.   Many times things unexpected happen that we don’t like, and it can impact everything and everybody.  In the story, one Saturday the rain comes down and it sets off a chain reaction that causes the entire block to honk, yell, bicker, and bark.   This book can help explain how our moods can get messy when something unexpected happens.  Then the rain stops and the sun shines once again.  I like this book because you can use it to ask a grieving child about the unexpected events in their lives that upset them and impact their mood?   What feels messy and out of control in their life?  What would make it better.

Tragedy and Support Programs for Military Families

With Memorial Day approaching, I will focus on programs for Military Families and their children who have dealt with the greatest sacrifice of all, the loss of a loved one to war, whether it be in combat or through suicide brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD).  Nearly all the families are trauma survivors, the true heroes.  They are the spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  They have suffered an enormous tragedy and grief and have to find a way to put their lives back together.  The following programs Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Military Families United (MFU)  are there to aid families round the clock.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS):  TAPS was founded in 1994 to offer immediate and long-term emotional support,  comfort, help and healing to anyone grieving the death of a loved one in military service from combat, suicide, terrorism homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness.   TAPS is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a national toll-free crisis, help and information line (1-800-959-8277).   TAPS immediately mails a Survivor Care Package to each family.  They offer peer-based emotional support, peer mentorship programs, parenting support, suicide support, resources, publications, a magazine, and videos.  View the TAPS website, to find out about all the wonderful programs.  TAPS has assisted over 35,000 surviving family members, casualty officers and caregivers.

On Memorial Day Weekend, May 25-28, TAPS holds its National Military survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors in Washington, D.C.  This will be the 18th annual conference and hundreds of families will be attending.  Parents and children attend their own programs.  Leading professionals in the grief and trauma field join together with survivors nationwide to share a weekend of hope, love, understanding, and courage.  The weekend is packed with workshops, fun, and entertainment.   It will be a time when loved ones will be honored and remembered.  Last year our son and his family attended.  Our grandson felt accepted and had a great time.  Attending the annual program and the good grief camps for kids throughout the year, means becoming a member of a larger family who can help you move forward with your grief and your lives.

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Military Families United (MFU):  Is another support organization that “Honors the Fallen, Supports Those Who Fight, and Serves Their Families.”  They provide priceless support to families in crisis.  Founded in 2005, they are a national coalition of Gold Star and Blue Star families, veterans, and patriotic Americans who share a deep appreciation for our men and women in uniform and support them in their mission.   They ensure respect at military funerals.   They want to remind the nation of the importance of supporting our men and women in uniform, through services and charitable programs that offer families direct support, and educational opportunities for spouses.  View the MFU website.

MFU sponsors a very special Camp Desert Kids program for children who have parents deployed.  According to MFU, there are more than one million military kids, most of whom will be affected by deployment during their childhood.  Separation from a parent for any reason is tough.  But, for military children it is even more challenging because they don’t always understand the separation from their parent.  They have difficulty visualizing where their dad or mom has gone and what they are doing.  Camp Desert Kids gives children the opportunity to experience deployment just like their parent.   They have created a fun and educational program that uses games, maps, fun facts, cultural activities, crafts, regional food and drink, and even the opportunity to dress up like Mom or Dad in full camouflage gear.  In the camp, the child travels through deployment stations, just like their deployed parent does.  They receive a passport, go through a deployment line, learn interesting facts about the geography, language and customs of Afghanistan, where their parent is serving.  Cultural experts and military volunteers provide many hands-on experiences with local food, currency, native clothing, and military equipment.  They eat meals in a  mess hall.  And, as they out-process, they are given a t-shirt as a reminder of their experience  and materials to take home.  A great camp to help reduce a military child’s stress and anxiety.

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Suggested Reading for Grieving Adults:

Surviving the Folded Flag:  Parents of War Share Stories of Coping, Courage and Faith, by Deborah H. Tainsh

Missing Max:  Finding Hope After My Marine Son’s Death, by Julie Schrock

A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love, by Kathleen O’Hara, MA

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye:  Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One, by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, PhD.

Kristin Hannah Interview – ‘Home Front’

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah, who published her latest novel, Home Front, January 31, 2012, by St. Martens Press.   Her novel spent the first week as #1 on five NYT lists.  Her book is under contract for a movie.  I also will give away one copy of Home Front to a lucky person who leaves a comment by 11:59 p.m. May 9.  I will do a random drawing and announce the winner on  May 10.

Kristin has a surefire hit with her latest gripping novel, Home Front.  She has tackled a harrowing subject about  a wife and mother deployed to war,   For Jolene and Michael Zarkades, there is and emotional toll  on their relationship and family.  Michael,  a criminal defense attorney,  is suddenly thrust into parenting their two daughters,  and creating a stable environment on the home front.  He’s angry at his wife for deploying and never really accepts her military service.  Jolene is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and duty comes first as she heads to the war zone with her best friend Tami.  There they face the atrocities and trauma of war on the front lines.  Tragedy strikes and the reader is catapulted into a story of  love, loss, heroism in war and at home, honor and hope.

Kristin is a master at developing characters, getting inside their minds and touching their core.  Her writing is powerful and emotive.  Kristin is one of those rare authors who is able to get her story out of your head and into your soul.  You are not reading about characters, you are sharing the experience with them.   Home Front will be a story that will linger with you because of its emotional imprint and realism.

I’ve followed Kristin’s career since she began writing, some 20 novels ago.  We finally met and had dinner last spring.  She graciously agreed to let me interview her about her new book.  Welcome Kristin.  It’s nice to speak again.

What inspired you to write Home Front?

[K]  Quite simply, this story was inspired by the nightly news.  As the war in Iraq went on, I watched the stories — night after night — of soldiers lost in battle, wounded, and the stories of their families left behind, waiting for them to return.  As a mother, I was heartbroken for the men and women and their families.  So many of the young soldiers on the news were the same age as my son, and that hit me really hard.  As an American, I was grateful, and as a woman, I began to wonder what it must be like to go off to war and leave your children behind.  I can’t imagine anything that would be more terrifying and difficult.  I realized that I had never read that story, and I wanted to.  I wanted to explore the idea of a woman torn between love and honor.  So I decided to write it.

I never thought about the potentially controversial nature of the themes in Home Front.  I simply set out to write a story about a female mother and soldier who went to war.  Although Michael is fairly anti-military and anti-war, the book is ultimately less political and more personal.  I didn’t set out to take a stance on the war itself.  This was really about supporting and  understanding the troops and realizing the extent of the sacrifices they make.

How do you feel about your book and how would your rate it?

[K] That’s a great question!  Honestly, I am usually the harshest critic of my own work.  Although I work as hard as I can on every book, there are simply some that I end up liking better than others and a few –a very few–that I fall in love with.  Home Front is one of those rare and special books that really ended up better than I imagined it would be.  I’m quite proud of it.  I think that’s because the characters are so real and three-dimensional and the issues raised are so important.  It is a book that comes at a great time.  As Americans, we need to remember to be grateful to and supportive of our troops and their families.

What do you want people to take away from Home Front?

[K]  At is core, Home Front is a novel about two ordinary people who have lost their way over twelve years of marriage and then find themselves separated.  I think this is a story we can all relate to.  You don’t have to be a soldier or even know a soldier to relate to the powerful emotional themes in the book.  We can all imagine how it felt for Jolene to hear her husband say, “I don’t love you anymore,” and we can understand how lost Michael felt after the death of his father.  A marriage is a tricky thing that hangs on hooks both big and small.  Every little thing can matter.  Words spoken and unspoken carry a tremendous weight, and in a way it requires as much commitment and honor to hold a marriage together as to go off to war.  In that way, we all understand sacrifice.  It’s no surprise that I’m a romantic, and to me, there’s nothing more romantic than a husband and wife falling back in love with each other.

That’s what I want people to see in the end–the story of an ordinary marriage tested in an extraordinary way.  And, of course, I hope readers end up with a slightly better understanding of and appreciation for the sacrifices made by our military families.

How much research was involved in writing Home Front?  Did you have contact with the military?

[K]  The research for Home Front almost killed me. :)  I didn’t anticipate that would be the case, either.  I was actually fairly cavalier about this particular aspect.  I mean, I’m a lawyer, so research is something I’m comfortable with, and additionally, I have tackled breast cancer, brain tumors, the Siege of Leningrad, and World War II Russia, and DNA testing to exonerate convicted prisoners.  I didn’t think that the themes and issues in Home Front would require any more research than I was used to.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Researching and writing Home Front, with its military theme, was a mammoth undertaking.  I was a bit like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, into a world where nothing was the way I imagined it.  I was incredibly lucky to work with CW5 Teresa Burgess, a Black Hawk pilot/wife/mother who was a real lifesaver in the research and understanding department.

Prior to Home Front, I would have said that I understood something about military families–their lives and their service.  But, I was wrong in almost everything.  I only understood the thinnest layer.  I learned so much in the writing of this novel and in researching it.  I went to a deployment ceremony and honestly, I think every American should attend one.  Watching our soldiers preparing to go off to war, and their families standing alongside to say goodbye, really brings their sacrifice into sharp focus.  It is a powerful reminder that whatever one feels about any particular war, we need to always respect and honor our soldiers and their families.   Honestly, I felt a little ashamed that I hadn’t attended one before.  Although, boy, was it difficult.  I was humbled by their pride and strength  in the face of such an undertaking.  It makes you truly consider what heroism is and reminds you to be grateful.

Did you find that the experience of a woman deployed different from a man being deployed?

[K]  Yes, I think  it’s very different, and those differences were important to me.  As you know, I write about women’s issues and women’s lives, so I guess it’s not surprising that I came to this topic.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a mother/soldier to leave her children and go off to war.

The parallel story of Michael defending a soldier with PTSD in a criminal case, while Jolene was dealing with PTSD, was brilliant!  Did you have that in mind from the start?

[K]  Thanks!  That was a really lucky stroke, coming up with that.   And yes, it existed almost from the beginning (at least from the time Michael existed).  I came up with it because I wanted to educate the reader–and by extension, Michael–about PTSD without having to worry about being author intrusive or boring.  The depiction of PTSD is one of the most important and relevant portions of the book.  I tried to really bring it home in a way that allowed readers to understand how it feels to suffer the symptoms.  I also tried to inform–this was the point of the Keller trial.  The reader learns the truth of PTSD along with Michael.  ultimately, one of the points of the novel is a reminder to all of us.  As a nation we have to care for our soldiers upon their return.  It’s just that simple.

What is your writing process?

[K]  My writing process is extremely burdensome and time-consuming.  I have spent years trying to pare it down, to be “smarter” from the beginning, and none of it seems to work for me.  No matter how much research I do, I never seem to quite nail the right story from the start.  Nonetheless, I begin with either a theme or an issue.  In the case of Home Front, it was an issue.  I wanted to write a story about the price of deployment on a wife/soldier/mother.  We have all read about ment going off to war and women staying on the home front; I wanted to turn the story on its head and make it about a woman.  That idea obviously leads to dozens of potential story lines.  It began as a story about sisters, then about an estranged father/daughter, and ultimately became about Jolene and Michael’s crumbling marriage and their frightened children.  As you know, I write longhand–often sitting on the beach.  Then my fabulous assistant, Kim,  types up my pages and hands them to me.  It is normal for me to do as many as twenty drafts.  Half of those drafts are game changers–characters, settings, storylines will be changed–and half are more line edit.  It takes me about four months to research, outline and conceive the idea; six months to write the “first” draft; and another five months of editing after that.

How has social media effected you as a writer?

[K]  Early in my writing career, I was isolated and didn’t know what people thought about my books.  I was dragged into the new world of social media kicking and screaming, but the surprising truth is that I like talking to my readers via Facebook and my blog.  (Kristin has a FB following of over 64,000.)  It’s amazing, isn’t it?  And they’re so fun!

After 20 novels, you’ve been approached by the film industry about two of your books?

Yes, Chris Columbus, who is one my favorite director/producers has begun work on Home Front.  I can’t wait to see what he does with it.   He’s such a genius at mixing drama and emotion.  Also, Abigail Breslin, the Oscar-nominated star of Little Miss Sunshine, has optioned The things We Do for Love.   That’s a real reader favorite, so I have high hopes for it.

Any tiny hints about your 2013 novel — inquiring minds will want to know?

[K] LOL!  Nice try.  It’s changing every second, so we’ll see.

Great talking with you again, Patricia!  Thanks so much.

Kristin, thank you for taking time out of your crazy-busy schedule to talk with me about Home Front and all the exciting news you had to share.  Home Front is a powerful novel, and has all the right ingredients to make a compelling movie.  What a great new experience for you.   We will all be standing in line at the theaters when the movies are released!  Best of luck! 

Readers:  Don’t forget to leave a comment, if you want a chance to win a copy of Home Front!  During May, I will be reviewing  books for military families, children,  and veterans.   I also will share information about support programs for families who have lost loved ones.

 

Playing War – Perfect Picture Book

Playing War

Kathy Beckwith, Author

Lea Lyon, Illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, 2005, Fiction

Suitable for:  Grades 2-5

Themes: Games, Children playing war,  Real loss and Friendship

Opening/ Synopsis:  “Too hot for basketball,” Luke said.  “Let’s do something else…”I know said Jeff.  “Let’s play war!”  Luke stood up.  “Good idea!”  “What about riding bikes?” asked Jen.  “No,” Jeff replied.  “War’s the best!  We haven’t played it for a while.”   A group of five friends decide one summer day to play a game of war outside.   Luke draws a line in the dirt and writes an S for soldiers on one side, and an E for enemies on the other side.  They divide into teams.  Jen explains the rules to Sameer, who is new to the neighborhood.   Grabbing sticks for guns, and pinecones for bombs and grenades, Luke and Sameer take off as the enemies.  As the game gets underway, Sameer decides he doesn’t want to play and goes home.  The five friends gather to play war again the next day.  Sameer again doesn’t want to play.  He tells his friends that he has been in a REAL war, but they don’t believe him.  Then Sameer explains that he was at school one day when his house was blown up and his family was killed.  The kids are speechless.   As the friends listen to Sameer’s story, they make a very important decision that day.  This is a great book for the school library.

Why I like this book:  I love this book for many reasons.  Today children are exposed to the violence of war on TV and in movies.  They have  family members deployed or they know of a soldier who has been killed in a war.  Playing War gives parents an opportunity to read the book aloud with their kids,  talk about what is happening in the world, and discuss whether it is a good idea to make a game of war.  I like that the author, Kathy Beckwith, didn’t include adults in this story.  Her characters make their own decisions about whether or not to continue their game.  This is a very powerful story written in very gentle and compassionate way so that kids can learn from each other.   Lea Lyon’s beautiful and expressive watercolor illustrations support the emotion of the story.

Resources:  Check out the Reach and Teach website for activities, resources and teacher’s notes that Tilbury House Publishers created for Playing War.   Additional reading materials for parents:  Diane Levin, Ph.D.,  is the author of two books Teaching Young Children in Violent Times and The War Play Dilemma.

Note: On March 4, I reviewed a YA book,  Abe in Arms, about a child soldier, who suffers flashbacks about his life in war-torn Africa.  I accidentally released the book on Sunday, so many missed it.  It is a very powerful story and I hope you check it out.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.

Books for Military Children Who Deal with Deployment

It is a heartbreaking time for children to brave a hug and plant a kiss on their mommy, daddy, brother or sister, as they head for deployment overseas. Sometimes they know the routine, because their goodbyes are for second and third times. The children have a tendency to grow up quickly.  There are extra chores and responsibilities.  They wait for e-mails, letters, and telephone calls.  But, it’s important  that their main job is to be a regular kid, go to school, and have fun.   There are a number of good books published for kids.  I hope the ones I’ve selected to review will become a welcomed resource to help children through the toughest times of deployment.

Night Catch, by Brenda Ehrmantraut is a timeless treasure that will help children cope with  separation and embrace the power of love that keeps them connected to loved ones.  It is written in lyrical rhyme, which works beautifully with the story and illustrations.  The illustrations by Vicki Wehrman are breathtaking and magical.  The book is for children 3 to 9 years of age.   

When a military father is deployed, he creates a nighttime routine with his son to keep their hearts connected while they are so far apart.   The father recruits the help of the North Star to play a nightly game of catch with his son.  Every night before the son goes to bed, he closes his eyes, and visualizes the North Star, Polaris.  His Dad tells him to “Breathe in deep, then blow out hard to send that North Star sailing far….Then close your eyes and have sweet dreams of playing  catch amid moonbeams…The star will travel all the night while you are sleeping, tucked in tight.”   As the son sleeps, the father goes about his work and patiently waits for his day to end so that he can catch the North Star as he spots it in the night sky, and then send it back to his son.  When his tour of duty ends, he  blows a final puff of air, boards a plane and races that star home to his son.  A beautiful story written to remind us how we all are connected, and to be aware of these connections — even through a game. 

A Paper Hug, written by Stephanie Skolmoski and colorfully illustrated by her daughter,  Anneliese Bennion, who have both lived through a family deployment.  It is a real keeper for military families, and for children  3 to 8 years of age.

The story  is about  the stressful times that are unique to military families.   It  follows a father who is notified about an upcoming deployment overseas.   What makes this book a tad bit different, is the author involves the child in every stage of preparation for the father’s deployment.  The great thing about this book, is that it emphasizes the importance of expressing  emotions — that it is okay to cry and be angry.  The mother and son search for special items to pack for Dad, so that he can remember them while he is gone.   The child comes up with a special gift for his dad — a paper hug.  There are instructions on how to make a paper hug, along with a poem that your child can include.   I applaud the author for such a creative  and special idea for families.   The message is empowering.

The Invisible  Strings,  is written by Patrice Karst and illustrated by Geoff Stevenson.  The book is for children 3 to 8 years of age, who have been separated from a parent because of a deployment, or have lost a parent or loved to death. 

This book is among my favorites, because it delivers a heartwarming and compelling message to children that they are never separated from a loved one.  This is because  “people who love each other are always connected by invisible strings made of love.”  And these strings reach all over the world from heart to heart and remain forever.    I really appreciate the message in this book because it is more about love than separation.  It is also introduces a beautiful visualization technique for kids.

Books Help Military Children Cope with Grief

The Hero in My Pocket, is written by Marlene Lee, who has her MA in bereavement studies.  The book  is published by Early Light Press, and is excellent for children 6-12 years of age.   The artwork in the book was done by children for children, which makes this book very special.

For Greg, 10, and Grace, 7, their father is their special hero who serves in the military.   They are proud of him.   When their dad is killed in combat, they become acutely aware that every comment about their dad has changed from the first tense to the past tense.  They ask their mom to tell them what happened to “just make sure it was true.”   In working through their grief, they find a special way to honor and remember their “Special Hero.”   This book is more than about reading.  It also is about drawing, writing, sharing and remembering on special “Hero Pages.”   A very important tool for parents and professionals helping children cope with grief.  Although written for military children, this book is a good grief book for any child suffering the loss of a loved one.

 A Kids Journey of Grief, TAPS Edition, is available to TAPS children and youth who have lost a loved one in the armed forces.  Parents may request a copy by contacting the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors,  (TAPS), and tell them the branch of service where their loved one served.  TAPS also sponsors annual Good Grief Camps for children on Memorial Day Weekend in Washington D.C., May 27-30.  And, they hold regional Good Grief Camps across the country during the year.

 

Help Me Say Goodbye, by Janis L. Silverman, published by Fairview Press, for kids 4 to 8 years of age who have experienced grief.  It is a well-crafted summary of the grief process, exploring all aspects of grief, and ways to cope.    The author  has created this book as an art therapy book to help a child express what they may not be able to communicate, but can do through drawing.  There are few sentences on each page, but each one supports a very strong feeling or message that the child is to respond to.  For example,  death is not something you can control, it is not your fault that your special person died —  draw about some of the things you can’t control.   When a loved one dies, birthdays and holidays can be hard –you may want to plant a tree or do something in memory of your loved one.   Do you have a good box to keep your memories like pictures and objects in? — write about what you want to put in your box.    Keep something that belonged to your loved one so you can touch and look at it — think about why these things are important to you.  This book is filled with great ideas and is certainly a wonderful keepsake for any child working through loss.