Book helps children celebrate Army's birthday, understand Army history
June 4, 2010
By Dona E. Fair
SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- As the Army prepares to celebrate its 235th birthday, three women have taken the broad theme of the Army's long tradition and history and transformed it into a series of books designed for children.
The Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command has sponsored a third in a series of children books titled "Happy Birthday U.S. Army," to help children understand the importance of what their parent or parents do in the Army.
The first book, written in 2008 by Donna McGrath and Mary Ellen Pratt, told the story of the Army's rich history involving a young boy discussing his grandfather's birthday and the similarities of his immediate family and the Army family he belongs to. McGrath is Sports and Fitness Program Manager for Child, Youth, and School Services, Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command, and Mary Ellen Pratt works with Army Youth Services.
"Originally, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren tasked us with writing a children's story referencing the Army's rich history in support of the Army's birthday celebration in 2008. As a member of the Army's Birthday Week Committee, I went on Wikipedia and the Army's website, which has a great historical section, and started researching the history of the Army," said McGrath.
Each of the three books has a centralized theme. According to McGrath, from the very first book there is a chronological history of the Army through the Revolutionary War, Civil War, the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, women entering into the armed service, all the way to our present day Soldiers.
"As a co-writer, I did the historical writing and Mary Ellen was the primary children's writer," said McGrath. "She adopted the history and wrote it so children would understand it."
After McGrath and Pratt wrote the books, bringing it alive visually was the responsibility of illustrator Angela Schoffstall.
"We started out with many looks and drafts and decided that, since the stories were from a child's point of view, the books should look like a child had drawn the story. So that's how it all kind of started," said Schoffstall, a visual information specialist for the Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Command.
"The very first book took around probably five months to illustrate to make sure that we had everything right. As a designer, I wanted the children to want to pick up the book. I wanted them to be colorful and to take a little history of the Army and help them to understand what their mother, father, brother, or sister might do in the Army."
The second book is entitled "Sam the Army Dog," and chronicles the life of Sam who belongs to an Army family and dreams about someday becoming an Army dog.
"Last year's book was based on the different occupations in the Army, so Sam the Army dog was researching all of the various jobs that are available to military personnel, specifically, Army personnel," said McGrath.
This year's book is really a culmination of both books, but uses the first book more to make the story enduring. The book this year also is redesigned to show a patriotic look.
"Angela did a wonderful job illustrating the book this year because it includes illustrations from the last two years of birthdays the Army has celebrated throughout the world," said McGrath. "This year we specifically mentioned the National Guard and Army Reserve because we wanted to be all inclusive."
"I have seven children-four children and three stepchildren, of which four of the boys are in the military. So even for my two year old, because we have his, mine, and ours, all of her brothers and sisters are much older, I would like to read the books to her to help her understand the military and the Army and help show her what her brothers do for our nation," said Schoffstall.
While the books are aimed primarily for children, McGrath is hopeful the books will help others see that the Army cares about military families and military youth.
"We want to ensure that our children in our child development centers know that the Army cares about them. I think it is important to recognize that Soldiers are moms and dads.
"We have so many Soldiers deploying right know, that children want to know what their parents are doing when they are deployed. They want to know that they are still in touch with their parents," said McGrath. "I was deployed to Iraq last year and we had parents who were deployed, reading our books on video. It really brings the families together. Although they are separated, they can be together for a short time even though it is through a video tape."
During this year's celebration of the Army birthday, many members of the Army's senior leadership, including the Secretary of the Army, will be reading the final book to children around the world.
"It is a great honor for me to know that the Secretary of the Army will be reading the book to children in Washington, D.C. It feels good to know that something that I have done will be going all over the world and especially the Pentagon," said Schoffstall.
"I think the premise for all three renditions of the book is to show that Army leadership cares about the Army families. They know that Army families are resilient and strong, and that, even though there have been many deployments for many parents, the children and families will survive," said McGrath.
All three of the books are free and are available online for download at Army OneSource, under the Child, Youth, and School Services section, https://www.myarmyonesource.com/ChildYouthandSchoolServices/ArmyBirthday/default.aspx. Those interested can also go their local child and youth services development centers and ask for a copy or get information on how to get one.