If you know a child with a father in the military, When Daddy Goes Away and it's companion book, When Daddy Comes Home, may be just the books they need.
When Daddy Goes Away, written by Kristie Algeo (a military wife), is the story of a little boy who's nervously excited about beginning kindergarten. He's eager to start school so he can learn to read and write...so he can read his Daddy's letters and write back. But he's sad, too, because Daddy won't be able to send him off to school. In fact, when Daddy's away, there's a lot this little boy doesn't like. Gone are the fishing trips and bear hugs and bed time prayers with Daddy.
These thoughts bring the little boy to tears. So his Mommy plays a recorded message from his Daddy. In the message, Daddy says he feels many of the things the little boy is feeling just now: Excited, scared, worried, sad. The boy takes great comfort in knowing this; if Daddy can get through it, then the boy can, too. And there's more. Daddy's left a special prayer on the tape. The boy kneels and prays along. "I am so happy that Daddy says my bedtime prayer with me tonight," he thinks. In the end, he closes his eyes and dreams "about my first day of kindergarten and about an even better day - when Daddy comes home."
The book also includes a friendly introduction by the author, as well as a section on helping children deal with a parent's deployment. In addition, there are ideas on making "little ones feel an extra measure of love during deployment."
When Daddy Comes Home, by the same author, introduces us to a little girl named Sally. Sally explains that she's had a busy summer visiting with her grandparents. Rules were different at her grandparent's cabin, which was sometimes no fun. Her grandparents, at first, seemed like strangers. And "my grandparents didn't spend all their time with me, either. Every morning, Grandpa closed his door to spend time in prayer." But Sally soon learned to have fun. "I wanted to stay and stay at the cabin with Grandma and Grandpa until I remembered another special person that I hadn't seen for a long time - my Daddy."
Sally makes a welcome home banner for her Daddy, then describes her father's arrival home. Mommy cries and thanks God for keeping Daddy safe. But it takes time for Sally to feel comfortable around her Daddy again. He feels like a stranger. Sally explains how things change when Daddy comes home. Some of the rules have changed, and Daddy and Mommy want alone time, too. She concludes: "Some things are new and different now that Daddy is home, and every moment may not be perfect. But that's okay, because we belong together, and we love each other."
This book also includes a warm introduction by the author, and a couple of pages of ideas on how to help children with post-deployment homecomings.
What I Like: Undoubtedly, there's a need for books like these. Although a professional writer might have produced tighter books, the author clearly knows whereof she speaks, and that makes up for any flaws. The illustrations in both books are cartoonish, bright, and kid-friendly. I especially like Ron Wheeler's illustrations for When Daddy Comes Home.
What I Dislike: Brandi Neighbor's illustrations for When Daddy Goes Away are a little amateurish, although most kids won't find them disagreeable.
Overall Rating: Because these books deal so honestly with the issues faced by "military kids," Very Good.
Age Appeal: 4 - 8.
Publishing Info: Lightning Source, 2006; ISBN: 1414106432 (When Daddy Goes Away and 141410667X (When Daddy Comes Home); paper back, $21.99 each