A Brief Discussion of What It’s Like to Be a “Military Brat” in Youth Literature
I grew up in, on and around military bases. I was, as the saying goes, a military brat. What this means is that I grew up with family members who were in or worked for the military. My Dad was in the Air Force and my Mom worked for AAFES, which is a civilian organization that works with the military to staff the various places on bases where military personnel buy their groceries and such.
What it means in real life is that I moved every 2 or 3 years. By the time I graduated high school I had lived in 2 countries, 4 states, and attended 9 different schools. As a grown up, I haven’t really thought a lot about growing up as a military kid, except when I’m on Facebook and I see all my friends posting about elementary school friends and I remember that military life gave me some gifts but robbed me of others. Sometimes that romanticism of childhood friendship in youth literature burns with the force of a 1,000 suns.
However, I now work at a library that is incredibly close to one of the military bases that I grew up on. In fact, it’s where I lived when I was in the 9th and 10th grade, a teenager myself. The base is still there, though changed some and renamed. For the first time in my professional life, I know that statistically a portion of the kids who walk into my library are probably there because their parents were stationed in the area.
On Monday, I started listening to the book Fish in a Tree by because it is about a young girl with dyslexia and I am raising a child with dyslexia. But I was struck by another element of the story: Ally is the child of a military father and she talks about having to move a lot. This is a theme that doesn’t come up very often in youth literature, despite the fact that we as a nation invest more money than other nations our size in our military and we have been engaged in more than 3 wars since 9/11. So while we thank soldiers for their service on a daily basis, we often ignore the fact that they have kids in our literature.
The first time I really noticed an authentic discussion about what it’s like to grow up in a military family was when I read the historical fiction book If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth. The second time was while reading the contemporary title Beneath the Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles. Both of these also talked in depth about what it’s like to move frequently. And Cowles talks specifically about what it’s like to be on a military base, including visiting some of the unique shops that you can find on a military base. And the brilliant The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson invites us into the life of a teen girl who is living with a parent haunted by PTSD.
There is a lot of historical fiction about soldiers, but there is a real under representation of military kids in youth literature, especially when you consider that there are 1.2 million kids of military families in the United States. In addition, more than 2 million children have experienced a parent being actively deployed since 2001. There are more interesting facts about military children here. A brief glance of current offerings indicate that the topic is better represented in younger literature.
Looking around online I found several book lists of interest:
Goodreads has a list of 59 YA books that contain military themes, although several books on this list are about having a sibling in the military or going into the military yourself, which is not necessarily the same as growing up as a child with military parents.
Even if you don’t live or work near a military base, you may have military kids in your classroom or life, because at some point our parents get out of the military. So please take a little bit of time to read what it’s like to be the child of a person in the military and share those stories with the young people in your life who aren’t. It’s not just the individual in the military that serves, entire families are impacted by military service, in small and big ways.
It’s weird to me now, sometimes, when I look at my kids and realize that they have no idea what it’s like to be a military kid. I’ve worked hard to try and make sure that we have moved as little as possible for my children because it personally affected me quite profoundly. Both of my girls have been on a military base once or twice as a baby, but they haven’t been for years and have no recollection of it. They have no real knowledge or understanding of how different my life was from theirs because we are no longer a military family. Well, not directly. They know that their grandparents served and we’ve talked some about what that means, but they’re life is very different than mine, which has its positive and negatives. But my hope is that they will one day have people in their lives who have known them since they were little who aren’t related to them by blood.
Do you have some books to add to our recommended reading list on books that feature children in military families? Please share with us in the comments.
Filed under: Reader's Advisory
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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