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Pages from life

Natalie was not happy when her dad was in Iraq for a year, but she is pretty excited about seeing her deployment experiences in a new picture book for children, according to her grandmother, who wrote the book.

In the book and in real life, Natalie calls her grandparents Papa and Nana, but the rest of the country knows them better as Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

Jill Biden’s first book, “Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops,” was released Tuesday. With words and illustrations, it tells the story of Natalie and her little brother Hunter, during the 2008 deployment of their father Beau Biden, who serves in the Army National Guard.

“She loves the book,” said Dr. Biden of Natalie’s reaction. “I keep telling her what a great thing she has done, because other children will learn what it’s like and other children will benefit from her book.”

She spoke by phone from New York on Monday as she prepared for the next day's launch events, a round of television interviews.

Natalie and Hunter may participate in some future book events with their grandmother.

“I’d love to have them, because it is their story, and they’re very proud of their story and they’re very proud of their dad,” Dr. Biden.

“We all have our Army shirts and every time they put theirs on, they’re like, ‘Nana go get your Army shirt. Put your Army shirt on like us.’ They have a real sense of pride.”

Natalie’s camouflage-print T-shirt is one of the real pieces of the Biden children’s lives that appear in the book. Others include Natalie losing a baby tooth, while her father watched via video chat; saying prayers for their father and other soldiers; and helpful neighbors who shoveled snow for the family.

“Everything that is in the book was a real occurrence, and I felt that all children whether they were military or non-military could relate to it,” said Dr. Biden.

Although the issues of deployment and family separation are serious ones, she said she wanted the book to be uplifting for children. Another purpose was to educate people of any age who don’t know any military members or families.

“What better way to let Americans learn about this experience than a children’s book, where the parents can read to the children, or the children might hear it in their classroom or when they go to the library,” she said.

“I’m a teacher so I thought this was a really good way to try to educate a whole generation of Americans, who have no real relationship with military families, to learn what this is all about.”

In a 30-year teaching career, Dr. Biden has taught at both the high school and college levels, and reading is one of her areas of specialization. Since moving to Washington, D.C., with her husband’s latest job, she has continued her career, teaching at a local community college.

Various roles in her life came together to help shape this book, she said, and to address a subject that is important to her – military families.

“I’m an educator. I’m a military mom, and now I’m second lady. I always said I wouldn’t waste my platform, and I really want to do things that are meaningful. I have so many choices, but this is so close to my heart because of our son Beau.”

She said she talks about military life in her own classroom, encouraging other teachers to do the same and to be aware of military children who may be in their classrooms.

“Every year, I host the teachers of the year from every state,” she said. “I talk to them about incorporating military children and awareness into their curriculum.”

Dr. Biden has pledged all her earnings from the book to the United Service Organization to be used for scholarships for the children of wounded and fallen servicemembers. The publisher, Simon & Schuster has announced it will make a contribution to the USO, also for military children, to mark the book’s publication.

“Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops” will also be available at military exchanges. A spokesman for the Army & Air Force Exchange system said the book is now in 30 stateside stores and should be in 38 overseas locations in the next two weeks.
 

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