Children’s Books Help Military Children Manage Transitions

By Sara Croymans

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We know that military children experience multiple transitions.  They may relocate frequently, resulting in attending multiple schools or their parents may be away from home often due to trainings or deployments.  Children’s books are a great way to introduce and discuss transitions with military children.

According to a 2009 Technical Assistance and Training System TATS eUpdate on Transition “Using Children’s Literature to Support Successful Transitions” one of the best ways to help children navigate transitions is through preparation.  Using books that introduce potential transitions can help prepare children for these transitions.   TATS provides several best practices when using children’s literature to support transitions.  First, children’s literature can be used by any adults in the child’s life, including family members who can read and discuss books with the children. Select stories that are similar to the transitions the child is or will be encountering or concerned about.  After reading stories about transitions discuss the similarities and differences with the child’s current or new environment.  Use parts of the story to help the child talk about their feelings related to the transition.  Use children’s stories to support transitions before, during and after the transitions occur.  If appropriate, help the children participate in activities or practice skills they are learning to support the transitions.

The Minnesota National Guard Child & Youth Program provides this list of age-appropriate children books that address transitions:

Preschool – Age Books

  • A Lesson About Deployment by Ron Madison (Preschool – 2nd grade)

It is a series of short (1-2 page) poem-style accounts by characters about their  experience/feelings.

  • One Nation: America by the Numbers by Devin Scillian (Preschool – 1st grade)

Author Devin Scillian and illustrator Pam Carroll weave their magic around the  symbols of Americana that make us proud in One Nation: America by the Numbers, a follow-up to A is For America:  An American Alphabet.  More than a counting book, One Nation Illuminates the landmarks and treasurers that are uniquely American.

  • Hooray for Our Heroes, Sesame Street (Preschool – 1st grade)

The residents of Sesame Street discover that heroes are found in every place, every day.  Sometimes they are firefighters and police officers, whose jobs are heroic in nature.  And sometimes they are your neighbors down the street who do favors, large and small, that make life a little better for everyone.  This is a reassuring story that reminds us that there are all sorts of heroes, whether they are a teacher, a parent, or a friend that you don’t always have to brave great danger to be someone’s hero.

  • My Many Colored Days (board book), Dr. Seuss (Toddler – Preschool)

Dr. Seuss’ youngest concept book has stunning illustrations that capture a bright and playful book about feelings and moods to discuss with toddlers.

  • I’m here for You Now (Board book), Zero to Three (Toddler – Preschool)

This board book includes eight photo inserts for caregivers to add pictures that chronicle a child’s daily interactions with the loving adult deployed.  This book serves as a calming reminder to children that they will be loved, nurtured, and protected, no matter what the circumstances.

Elementary – Aged Books

  • A Very Long Time by Geri Timperley and Nikki Arro (K – 2nd grade)

An excellent book for military families whose Service member leave home for “A Very Long Time”.  Helps children understand that they are not alone because other daddies and mommies leave to serve our Country and a time does come when the military parent does return home.

  • Wherever You Are MY Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman (K – 2nd grade)

This book teaches your child how love takes shape from heartfelt words and images.  This book is great to share with your loved ones, no matter how near or far, young or old, they are.

  • My Red Balloon by Eve Bunting (K – 2nd grade)

The boy has been waiting for this day for many months.  It’s the day his daddy comes home from overseas.  He jumps out of bed and gets ready for the big event.  But before going downstairs for breakfast, he takes along something very important: his red balloon.  The red balloon will help is father find him among the crowd.  When the boy and his mother get to the pier, they find parents waiting for daughters and sons, and children waiting for mommies and daddies.  Suddenly, the crowd gives up a rousing cheer as the big ship approaches the harbor.  The boy can see sailors standing on the deck.  Could one of them be his daddy?  But as the s hip approaches, the boy loses his grip on the red balloon.  Will his daddy find him in the crowd?

  • Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut (K – 5th grade)

When a soldier’s work takes him half-way around the world, he enlists the help of the North Star for a nightly game of catch with his son.  Night Catch is a timeless story that connects families while they are apart and offers comforting hope for their reunion.

  • While You are Away by Eileen Spinelli (K – 5th grade)

At times a loved one may be far, far away, but that special person is never far from mind and heart.  Whether you share thoughts, memories, photographs, or favorite songs, there are many ways to find comfort when you miss someone you love.

  • The Wishing Tree by Mary Redman (1st – 5th grade)

Amanda understands her dad is making the world a better place, but it doesn’t make his deployment any easier.  After mulling over ways she can support her dad, Amanda creates a small wishing tree in her room, writing her hopes and prayers on yellow ribbons that she ties onto the branches.  As Amanda wishes for her dad to enjoy good meals, make new friends, and return safely, the little tree comes to life with yellow ribbons of hope.

Middle School – Age Books

  • Almost Forever by M. Testa (6th – 8th grade)

This seemingly simple novel in blank verse captures the feelings of a six-year old girl when her father goes to be a doctor in the Vietnam War for a year.  We learn about the fear the family feel of their father never returning.  Important things to a child like changing where they live and changes in her mother’s behavior are highlighted.  It also captures well the idea that children do not necessarily understand what is happening to them and their families, and cannot change many things even if they do understand, they can only observe.

  • Dear Blue Sky by Mary Sullivan (6th – 8th grade)

Ever since her brother Sef left for Iraq, Cassie has felt like her life is falling apart.  Her parents are fighting over her brother having gone to war.  Her smart, beautiful sister is messing up.  Her little brother, who has Down syndrome, is pretending he’s a Marine.  And her best friend no longer has time for her.  In her loneliness Cassie turns to a surprising source of comfort:  Blue Sky, an Iraqi girl she meets through her blog.  The girls begin a correspondence and Cassie learns that when Blue Sky says “I want my life back,” she means something profound, as she can no longer venture out in her destroyed city.  Cassie takes strength from Blue Sky’s courage and is inspired to stop running away from the pain, and to reclaim her life.

  • Jack Adrift: Fourth Grade Without a Clue by Jack Gatos (5th – 8th grade)

Jack’s father rejoins the navy after going bankrupt from being cheated in a business deal.  Jack, his parents, brother and sister go to live at Cape Hatteras in a camouflage-painted trailer parked in a swamp.  Jack’s father expresses some dissatisfaction with the Navy.  It depicts the family of an enlisted military member through a laugh aloud fun at times theme.

High School – Age Books

  • A Boy at War: A Novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer (9th – 12 grade)

When fourteen year old Adam moves to Hawaii with his mother, small sister and Navy father, he goes to a civilian school for the first time in his life.  He makes friends with a boy of Japanese ancestry, Dave, and his father strongly disapproves.  Adam sneaks off to go fishing with his new friend and they climb under a fence to fish on Pearl Harbor.  In a dramatic and scar(and injured by) the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Adam sees his father’s ship, the USS Arizona sink, in the confusing Adam is assumed to be in the Navy and helps rescuers.

  • After the First Death by Robert Cormier (9th – 12th grade)

Ben Marchand’s father joined the army late in life and is a General when the story opens.  When a bus full of children is taken hostage by terrorists Ben is asked by his father to take messages between the government and the terrorists.  His father tells Ben this is because he is young and non-threatening, but by the end of the book the reader learns that Ben was chosen by his father because his father and the secret government agency he works for have been conducting psychological experiments on Ben his whole life and his father know exactly how Ben will act under stressful circumstances.

  • Finding My Way by Michelle Sherman (9th – 12th grade)

A unique, three-part book that honestly and gently addresses key issues in dealing with a parent who has experienced trauma.  An important resource for anyone working with teens, this interactive book includes clear information and opportunities for self-expression.

  • When the Lights Go Out by Max Elliot Anderson (9th – 12th grade)

Peyton Aldrich’s father is an Army colonel, who specialized in Army intelligence.  His work is always top secret, which means he can’t even discuss it with his own son.  Nevertheless, Peyton idolized his father, who believes that after what happened on 9/11, somebody had to help keep the country safe.

An additional list, “Children’s Books for Young Children in Military Families”, developed by  eXtension is organized in the categories of:

  • Military Life
  • Deployment/Separation
  • Relocating:  Preparing
  • Relocating:  Adapting
  • Homecoming
  • Strong Emotions
  • Injury of a Parent
  • Death of a Parent
  • Activity Books

Do you have a favorite children’s books for military children that wasn’t included on one of these lists?  If so, please share by commenting on this blog.

Sara Croymans is a member of the Military Families Learning Network Family Transitions team and an Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota, Extension Center for Family Development. In addition, she is a military spouse.  Sara and her husband, retired from the Army National Guard, and three children navigated 22.5 years of weekend drills, annual trainings and two deployments. Their youngest son, daughter, and son-in-law also serve in the Army National Guard.

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