Having grown up in a military family myself, I understand how confused and lonely a child can feel when a parent is deployed. I think picture books can be an excellent tool for helping children of military personnel understand and process their feelings. This post contains a collection of books which portray these children, their soldier parents, and the special bonds that these families share.
Papa’s Backpack by James Christopher Carroll
This beautifully illustrated book with tribal imagery tackles the difficult feelings children feel during a parent’s deployment. When papa bear must go away, little bear begins to dream about accompanying his father and hitching a ride in his backpack. Acknowledging that he can’t do this, little bear decides to make papa bear a figure of himself, so that his papa can take him along symbolically. This sweet, rhythmic story never fails to make my eyes water.
Coming Home by Greg Ruth
Ruth needs very few words to express the anticipation families feel leading up to the return of a soldier. This story consists of a grand total of 20 words, but the magic is in the pictures. A boy waits patiently at the airport for his mother, observing dozens of other military families reuniting with their loved one. The (almost) wordless format gives little ones the opportunity to explain what they think is happening in each picture. Ruth truly did an excellent job portraying the emotion in the characters’ faces. I wasn’t expecting a book like this to fill me with so many emotions, and for that I highly recommend this one.
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick
I have fallen in love with this book! A mother tells her son the story of her great-grandfather, a veterinarian named Harry Colebourn who served in World War I. On his way to training, he finds an orphaned bear at the train station and decides to adopt her, naming her "Winnie." Winnie the Bear becomes the beloved mascot of Colebourn's regiment. She will later move to the London Zoo, where she befriends a boy named Christopher Robin. Yes, this is the true story that inspired Winnie the Pooh! Aside from this interesting story, you will enjoy the beautiful pictures from illustrator Sophie Blackall, which won the 2016 Caldecott Medal.
Over There by Dorinda Silver Williams, LCSW-C
This book, available in board book or paperback format, is written by a licensed social worker. There is a “Mommy” version and a “Daddy” version, so you can choose the one most relevant to your child. In this book, young children relate their everyday activities and feelings to what their mother or father may be doing and feeling during their deployment. It acknowledges that it is okay to feel a variety of emotions when your parent is far away and that the parent will always continue to love their child “here, there, and everywhere.”
Hero Dad or Hero Mom by Melinda Hardin
This simple book, available in both “Dad” and “Mom” versions, compares a soldier parent to a superhero. A soldier may not have X-ray vision or an invisible cloak, but they do have night vision goggles and camouflage! I really liked the message that every child with a soldier parent has their own superhero.
Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins
This book may be best saved for older kids, but I would feel terrible not mentioning it here. Collins did an impeccable job retelling her own experiences through the eyes of Suzy, a young girl who does not quite understand what is happening when her father is deployed to Viet Nam for a year. Suzy know he will be in the jungle, where her favorite cartoon character happens to live, so she thinks maybe it’s not too bad. As time passes and Suzy notices unsettling news reports and more and more people assuring her that everything will be okay, her idea of what the jungle is like becomes twisted. There are brief mentions of soldiers dying in battle and her father being very confused, but the family is ultimately reunited in a touchingly realistic ending.