30 April 2014

Children's Book Review: 'Why My Dad?'

"Why My Dad? A Story About Military Deployment" by Lisa R. Bottorff

Whether a military parent is deployed for months at sea or overseas, in times of relative peace or during a hot shooting war, children can feel a little adrift. With "Why My Dad? A Story About Military Deployment,"U.S. Air Force veteran Lisa Bottorff has published a picture book that navigates this emotional surf. In it, she tells a story of Michael and his friend Randy, as they react to news that Michael's father has just deployed.

While a colorful and accessible book for all ages, the book's themes are likely most appropriate to grade-school readers, leaning toward boys. The art by Nicolas Peruzzo—who has illustrated more than 30 children's books—are crisp and clean, almost like a comic book. Bottorff incorporates plenty of interest-generating hooks, including camping, baseball, and catching fireflies. Uniforms and military equipment are depicted in ways applicable to most military services.

"Why My Dad?" would be a useful tool with which to engage children in conversations about their own deployment fears, hopes, and other feelings.

Bottorff is most successful in her characters' explanation of what military parents do when they deploy. Notably, she manages to explore difficult concepts without mentioning combat, weapons, risk, or danger. Randy reminds Michael of a schoolyard situation: "My brother Robbie stepped in and made the bully leave me alone. Robbie was big and strong and could easily stand up to him. Our dads are like Robbie. They are in the world's best military and they stand up to bullies. Sometimes they have to go to other places to do it." Peruzzo's accompanying illustration figuratively reinforces the theme of protection.

The book has some potential hiccups. Michael's dad, for example, suddenly disappears when the child fails to come home for dinner on time. This dramatic but likely unrealistic scenario could be problematic for younger children. "Your dad wanted to talk to you and say goodbye but he couldn’t find you," his mother says, potentially sending the child on guilt-laden journey of his own.

Also, the letter his father leaves invokes the painfully familiar "you're now the man of the house" line. Speaking from experience, that can feel like an awfully heavy burden to a grade-schooler. Use it cautiously.

Finally, it would be fun and useful to have a similar book that focuses on a deploying mother, and/or the perceptions of a daughter.

That said, the book ends with a message that—while things will be different while a parent is deployed—life, friendships, and fun will go on. Beyond "I love you," that's probably what any child needs to hear most.


Note: The Red Bull Rising blog was provided an electronic review copy of this book.

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