Answering a Hard Question

These children tend to stutter when asked “Where are you from?” Children of military parents are from nowhere – and everywhere. Lovingly called “military brats,” they’ve been hard to find in a book until Kimberly Willis Holt came on the scene.

In his recent address to 1234 attendees at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Los Angeles, Bryan Collier talked about how important it was to see himself in The Snowy Day. As I listened, I remembered when book children lived in middle-class white families with a mother, father, one or two siblings, and a pet – or the problem was the lack of such a family and the resolution was finding one. Ezra Jack Keats broke a mold when Peter, his Snowy Day protagonist, was black – just a little boy doing what all children do in the snow.

After The Snowy Day, other authors have included children of other economic levels, races, and cultures in their books. Publishers today look for those stories. Besides all children's need  to find people like themselves in a book, I believe it’s also important for them to find those who are different – and to discover how much they are alike after all. Peter’s skin color may have been different for many children who read the book, but he loved the very same things they did when the white stuff began to fall.

Other ways children are different have nothing to do with ethnicity. Military children come in all varieties, one of the things I treasured about teaching in schools on or near military bases. But they have a culture all their own. They fit, sort of, with extended families they visit maybe once or twice a year. They fit, sort of, with the new community they may live in for six months, three years, or five if they are lucky. As a rule, they learn to adapt quickly to new homes and friends and have wonderful opportunities to experience the world. They also have unique challenges. I’ll not go into all of this because it’s told better in Kimberly’s books.

This week marks the release of Piper Reed, Forever Friend, the sixth in a series that follows the ups and downs of a Navy Brat. Kimberly Willis Holt writes from experience, her early memories including kindergarten in France and a stint in Guam with her Navy father. These books are for military children Kimberly [on the right] and me at the Children's Book Festivalwho can see themselves and say, “Yeah, just like me,” and for those who wonder what it would be like to live this nomadic life. Carey Hagan in the September/October 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine points out that these are books about a girl that a boy would read.

So if you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be in a military family or if you know a military child who needs to find himself or herself in a book, meet Piper Reed.