We all know how powerful stories can be in helping children to learn. Libraries are treasure troves of information that help teach children about core subjects, and open up understanding about other countries, cultures, religions and experiences. However, there is one area of British life that remains hugely underrepresented in UK libraries and that is Armed Forces life.
While most libraries have books featuring police officers, firefighters, doctors and nurses, there are rarely any stories about soldiers, sailors or RAF pilots.
At first glance this seems understandable. Many people might feel there isn’t a need to expose children to the realities of conflict and war. Some might feel passionately about protecting children from violence and have a personal anti-military stance. I can empathise with these views, but as a veteran, military spouse, mum and founder of a military children’s charity, I also think that libraries have a responsibility to represent military families in their catalogue.
There are an estimated 100,000 children in the UK with a parent in the British Armed Forces and we are doing these children a disservice if we completely ignore their Mum or Dad’s profession in books and stories. Let’s put aside our adult understanding of military service for a moment and put ourselves in the shoes of a forces child. They regularly see their parent go to work in uniform. They might live in a house behind the wire of a military base and see tanks, planes or troops carrying weapons every day. To the child these events aren’t about conflict or violence, they are simply part of their day-to-day reality and why should this life, this hidden British community, be absent from children’s literature?
What’s more, military children often face challenges that are unfamiliar to their civilian peers such as moving house every two years or more, moving schools, leaving friends behind and spending long periods separated from their serving parent. While operational conflicts have faded from the headlines, the UK still has numerous global overseas commitments and military personnel are still deployed abroad for months at a time, as well as having to spend time away from their families for other UK military commitments.
I know first-hand how difficult these experiences can be for children having gone through it with my own daughter; this was the driving force behind me setting up the charity Little Troopers. I’ve also witnessed how stories can have a huge impact in helping these children to navigate their emotions.
We all know how identifying with the experiences of fictional characters can help children find positive ways to deal with personal challenges and military life is no different. Yes, service children can learn about separation, friendship, belonging, identity, worry and loss through other stories, but there is something very special when a child sees their own experiences brought to life in a book. Not only do they get enjoyment from it, but it often encourages them to talk about their feelings and work through problems they might otherwise have struggled to manage. Most importantly, it helps them realise they are not alone. Ask any military parent and you can guarantee that a story about military life is probably one of their child’s favourite books.
The list of published books about military life is small, but there are a few fantastic titles out there including Jerilyn Marler’s Lily Hates Goodbyes, Billie Templar’s War, Veda Stamp’s Flexible Wings and Clare Shaw’s Sometimes. As a charity, Little Troopers has also self-published four titles that focus specifically on deployment in each of the three services and these are available on our website. None of these books are about promoting conflict or violence. Topics range from missing a parent to moving home and feeling pride in being part of a military community.
Military stories can also offer valuable lessons to civilian children (and adults too!). It can help them to understand what their service friends are going through, as well as removing the myths and stigmas associated with Armed Forces life; breaking down the barriers between communities.
In an ideal world I would like to see all libraries, but particularly those in schools and communities with a high-military population, including children’s books about forces life. It’s time to set aside judgments and recognise that military children have a story worth sharing.
Louise Fetigan is the Founder of Little Troopers, a military children’s charity supporting all children who have a parent serving in the British Armed Forces. For more information visit www.littletroopers.net
Header image: cover illustration from My Army Life written by Donna David and illustrated by Dan Butcher