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ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s a dilemma faced by many military families today: How do you get very young children to understand why their parent is leaving?

If anyone can help, it would be a former “military brat.”

That was the thinking that prompted Michelle Ferguson-Cohen to write and illustrate two new books for children: “Daddy, You’re My Hero!” and “Mommy, You’re My Hero!”

The books are written for children ages 4 to 8 — the same age window Ferguson-Cohen fell into when her own father, retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Ferguson, did two tours in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam conflict, “society as a whole was not terribly compassionate towards military families,” Ferguson-Cohen said in a Wednesday interview with Stripes. “The thing I remembered the most as a military brat was this perception that you’re alone.”

Reading was both solace and an escape.

“My mom took me to the library every single night after dinner,” Ferguson-Cohen said.

But there was a gap on the bookshelves.

“It made me crazy that I could never find any books that reflected my reality.”

Fast-forward to Sept. 11, 2001, the day Ferguson-Cohen watched the Twin Towers crumble from the roof of her Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment.

“Our neighborhood was covered by debris,” she said. “The first thing on my mind was the military and their families — I knew there would be a military action. And at that moment, all these memories came flooding back.

“I wanted to do something to remind [military kids] that they aren’t alone.”

At first, Ferguson-Cohen, 38, wrote a simple little poem that later formed the text for her books. Then she created a Web site on which to post the poem, which she illustrated herself in her first-ever foray into drawing and painting.

After making the rounds of uninterested publishers, Ferguson-Cohen and her husband decided to invest their own savings in a paperback, and later, a more sturdy “board book.”

In addition to the hard-cover versions of the books, which sell for $6.99 to $12.99 depending on the outlet, both books are also still available online, where visitors can read them (but not download them) for free.

But even if her venture is never profitable, Ferguson-Cohen said she is satisfied she’s done something of value.

Most of all, Ferguson-Cohen said, her books are “about understanding that you’re always a family, as long as you’re in each other’s hearts.”

—To see a free, interactive version of both books, and for information on ordering them and associated merchandise, go to www.booksforbrats.net

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