Brother and Sister Help Review New Children’s Book About Military Service

January 6, 2018

Teaching Children About Military Service

Siblings Kaili and William Jones (names and photos used with permission)

What’s the best way to review a book written for children? With the help of children, of course. And when the subject matter leans toward the somber and serious, in this case prisoners of war and service members missing in action, I enlisted the help of two children who live in my subdivision, a civilian community far away from bombs and bullets.

William is an athletic seventh grader who tells me he enjoys reading books he can check out from the library. His third grade sister, Kaili, loves to play dress up and wasn’t shy about speaking up as we discussed many of the tough themes in author Nancy Polette’s latest book for middle-grade readers, N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z (Elva Resa Publishing, 2017) and illustrated by Paul Dillon, the son of a WWII POW.

A few years ago, this brother and sister duo, along with another neighbor boy, showed up on my doorstep with homemade cookies and handwritten signs for my youngest son before he deployed to Afghanistan. To my knowledge, this is the closest these kids have come to personally knowing a soldier going off to war.

So, with William seated to my left at my dining room table and Kaili to my right, we began to discuss the stark and haunting images on the book’s cover. William pointed out the guard tower and informed his sister that there was probably a soldier up in the tower with a gun pointed down at the men huddled in coats. Kaili mentioned the snow and how cold the men looked. Then she mimicked an invisible guard up in the tower and said gruffly, “I’m warning you, don’t try to leave.” Throughout the reading of the book, she put herself into the story, imagining what it would be like to be taken prisoner, to be held against her will, and wondering if her family back home would know her whereabouts and if anyone was trying to save her. That’s what a good book does: it invites the reader to participate.

As we turned to the first page, I started to explain how the book is organized using a word starting with each letter of the alphabet. Kaili chimed in and said, “Yeah, it’s sort of like another book that might say, ‘P is for Princess or M is for Monster.’” And so we began with Artists and how “artwork reflects the hardships of prison life.” In a few brief paragraphs, the author explains how a British soldier held captive by the Japanese in 1942, fashioned a paintbrush out of human hair and used berry juice to depict the harsh treatment he and other prisoners experienced during the war. Although the guards confiscated many of the secret sketches, some of the sketches survived and show the hardship and sometimes death that prisoners endured at the hands of the enemy.

Later in the book, the images of barefoot children in threadbare clothing with downcast faces, and imprisoned behind barbed wire, prompted a lively discussion about Internment Camps and concentration camps during WWII. After William read a few lines out loud from that section, we talked about what it would be like if tanks and military trucks started rolling up and down our street and yanking people from their homes. Since my intent wasn’t to scare the children, I reassured them that hopefully our present and future leaders learn from the mistakes of the past. I appreciated that the author and the illustrator didn’t candy-coat this dark aspect of our world’s history, and the presentation of the material was age appropriate and tasteful.

One illustration shows a prisoner’s hands all cut up and bruised as he sews a crud American Flag out of scraps of material. This led to a discussion about why a prisoner might put his or her life at risk to create symbols from home. Another section talked about how Americans held in captivity during the Vietnam War created “Tap Codes” that help them communicate with other prisoners throughout camp when communication was forbidden. We role-played this part. I held up a notebook to represent a wall dividing two cells in a prison camp. William pretended to be in one cell and Kaili in the other. They couldn’t see each other or speak, not even a whisper. Then they each took turns tapping on the table, and we all three marveled at how prisoners in real life came up with secret codes to communicate. We studied the “tap chart” in the book showing letters of the alphabet and how they corresponded with the number of taps that spelled out words.

In the section, Missing In Action, a special team of investigators searches through a roped off area on a hillside deep in the jungle at what appears to be the sight of a military jet crash. The hillside is bare in places and we imagined what might have happened to the pilot and crew when the plane crashed decades ago and was never found until now. Between the illustration and the author’s explanation, we learn that every effort is made to recover and identify the remains of those missing from battles dating back decades.

At some point in our discussion, I had Kaili run into my home office and bring back a small black and white POW-MIA flag I keep on my desk. We talked about the symbolism of the flag. Then we remembered that a neighbor down the street flies a POW-MIA flag everyday, along with the American flag, on a tall flagpole in his front yard. My hope is that these children will glance up every now and then when they’re riding their bikes past the house and think about the meaning behind the black and white cloth with the silhouette of a man, a watchtower, and barbed wire, flapping in the wind.

When we turned to the section about Sacrifice, I hesitated. A part of me wanted to shield these kids from the truth. In the first illustration, a uniformed honor guard stands next to the casket of a fallen service member while members of the guard fold an American flag to present to the family. On the next page, we see the family seated near the gravesite; several generations are represented. A handsome Marine kneels before a woman as she receives the flag. A young boy clings to her side while a little girl a few feet away looks on.

As the kids and I took turns reading the short passage that accompanies this section, I realized at once why this book is so important. Military kids of all ages understand the sacrifice for the most part. Many of them have lived through the trauma of sending a parent to war, and all too many have experienced the grief that comes with sacrifice, be it death or a disability. But how many civilian kids have been sheltered from the harsh reality of war? How many civilian parents talk to their young children about those who serve in the Armed Forces?

N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A-Z should be in every elementary and middle school library in this country. One of the goals of the book is to tell the military story to the civilian sector of our society. The book is ideal for a classroom discussion or for families who are looking for meaningful ways to honor veterans in their communities. This book can serve as a guide to help parents and educators teach children about service and sacrifice.

Librarians might consider ordering this book for their school or city libraries. Suitable for ages eight and up, patrons of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from the information presented in straightforward easy to read language. A discussion guide and a glossary explaining a few military terms are included at the back of the book.

As my young neighbors left to go home, I watched them through the eyes of a military wife and mother who’s sent loved ones into harm’s way. My hope is that more Americans can teach their children about the true cost of freedom. Reading this book is a good place to start.


Nancy Polette has written more than 170 books! She spent five years researching the life of Virginia Hall for her middle grade biography, The Spy with the Wooden Leg: The Story of Virginia Hall and worked alongside the president of the Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum president to create N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z.


Paul Dillon is an accomplished illustrator and cartoonist whose work has appeared in more than thirty children’s books. He digitally painted the illustrations in N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z, a middle-grade nonfiction picture book honoring the legacies of prisoners of war and those missing in action. Paul is president of the Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum. His dad was a WWII POW.


Elva Resa Publishing, a military spouse-owned company, is the leading US publisher of resources for and about military families. Elva Resa’s mission is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.


Kathleen M. Rodgers is a former frequent contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. The author of three novels, she is working on her fourth novel, which deals in part with the family of a pilot missing in action in Vietnam.



Casualties: A compelling and convincing read by debut novelist Elizabeth Marro

February 2, 2017

“His war is over. Hers has just begun.” ~ from the book jacket of Casualties, published by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

What others are saying:

“… this powerful first novel will leave the reader reflecting for days. – Library Journal 

“Marro’s perception of the hurt and guilt her characters carry is deftly portrayed… Marro provides a clear sense that, while the past can’t be undone, the future always offers a chance to make amends, and the human spirit can triumph over pain and find hope in family and forgiveness. Marro casts a ray of hope that a good life can be lived after terrible tragedy.” Kirkus Reviews

“Elizabeth Marro made me care about these two people so much that by the end of the novel I’d forgotten they were fictional characters and I was ready to call them up to see how they were doing and if they’d finally found their way toward peace and forgiveness.”—David Abrams, author of Fobbit.

To find out how to win either an E-book or signed hard copy, read on.

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen M. Rodgers: Welcome, Elizabeth. I must admit, as a military mother whose youngest son served in combat, I approached your novel with some trepidation. From the book’s description, I knew going in that Robbie, a Marine fresh home from the war, was going to break his mother’s heart. In breaking Ruth Nolan’s heart, he broke mine as well. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading. Without giving too much of the plot away, can you describe how the story first came to you?


I knew this story would be about a mother, her son and one of the scariest “what if” questions that keeps parents awake at night. I didn’t know until we moved to San Diego in 2002 that it would be about a mother whose son goes to war. My husband and I had been living and working in central New Jersey, an area dominated by the pharmaceutical industry and other corporations. We knew few people whose immediate family were in the military. My own family’s involvement in the military ended with my father’s generation. Now we were in a city that many think of as a sunny escape to paradise but is one of the largest military communities in the country. Here we saw the recruits come in, the families waving goodbye, the pews in church occupied by one less family member as troops were deployed. Then we began to read the names of the fallen in our local newspapers and see the photographs that went with them. Each of those names led to a family whose lives would never be the same. It became important to me to try to understand their journey.

KMR: The story alternates between three point-of-view characters. First we meet military mother Ruth Nolan, an affluent executive who works for a major defense contractor. Next comes Robbie, back on American soil after fighting in Iraq. After tragedy strikes, we meet Casey MacInerney, a wounded warrior and con artist with a heart of gold. All three characters are equally convincing in their roles. How did you get inside the heads and hearts of your main characters to create story people readers care about, enough to still worry over them days after finishing the book?

EM: It’s wonderful when characters stay with you, isn’t it? I think part of it is that I lived with these people for a very long time. I had conversations with them, asked them questions, and sent them down blind alleys a few times. After all that you find you have them or, more accurately, they have you. You hear them in your dreams. They start telling you what happens. Some opened up much more easily than the others. Casey, for example, came quickly and easily. Robbie was also accessible in a way that his mother, Ruth, was not for a long time. I think that to crack to code for each of them — particularly Ruth. Initially, I was a harsh judge of Ruth but writing isn’t about judging. It’s about understanding. When I wrote a number of scenes about Ruth’s childhood that never appear in the story, I recognized her vulnerabilities in a way I couldn’t before.

KMR: Casey’s character is so authentic, not only with his war injury but his need to find a loved one he’d abandoned years ago. By the end of the story, I felt complete empathy for him due to the physical and mental anguish he’d suffered. I wanted him to be happy. Did you interview wounded warriors who’d lost limbs?

EM: Casey emerged not from interviews but from piecing together elements of men I’d observed and imagined. His conflicts stem only partly from losing part of his leg in the first Gulf War. He is shaped as much by his upbringing, the losses he’d had over the course of his life, and his need for family which is complicated by his conviction that he doesn’t really deserve that kind of love. Having a feel for who he was before the injury helped me to understand how his injury and the events that followed could land him in the situation he was in when he met Ruth.

 KMR: Casey’s love of reading and his respect for books turns what could be a cliché down-on-his-luck-character into a well-rounded person. Why is reading so important to the development of a person regardless of his or her background?

EM: As a lifelong book addict, I’m very aware of how stories have opened the world to me. They challenge me, they help me to go places and meet people I’d never otherwise meet, they help see life a little more fully. Books are also a refuge, a place to go and live for a while and to come back with a fresh perspective. Knowing Casey the way I did, I knew he’d not want to sever every connection he had with who he’d been as a promising younger person.

KMR: Is your book an indictment against war?

EM: I’ve never thought of it that way for the simple reason that I’m focusing on people, not an agenda. There are very human universal issues at stake for the characters in this story and war is one of them. Human history seems to be inextricably bound with war and I venture to guess that most of us all over the world would like to see less of it. The consequences of going to war are tremendous and far-reaching. It is important for as many of us as possible to recognize and feel those consequences on our youth, families, and communities. It is important for those of us who do not serve to recognize what we are asking those who serve to do on our behalf. We need to do what we can to be sure we are going to war for the right reasons and make sure the needs of our veterans and military families are met. And we must consider the consequences suffered by the civilians living in war zones whose lives are affected for generations.

KMR: Ruth drives an expensive jaguar. It’s sleek and represents the trappings of her well-heeled life. But later, after days on the road, the jaguar begins to show signs of a long journey. Then near the end of the story, you gift the reader with an image of the hood ornament and the symbol becomes a metaphor for the possibilities awaiting both Casey and Ruth. During the writing of the novel, did you ever find yourself wanting to take a road trip and travel the exact route of your characters?

EM: Yes! In fact, I’ve driven portions of this trip but not the whole of it. I’d love to do the whole thing some day.

KMR: I finished the last pages of your novel with a tissue pressed to my nose. When Ruth turned onto Lost Nation Road, I found myself wanting to be alone as she pulled up in front of the house she grew up in. The ending was quite satisfying and I can imagine life continuing on in this fictional world you created. Will there be a sequel?

EM: There are no plans now for a sequel. We may catch glimpses of Ruth or Robbie or Casey and his daughter in future stories about other people.

KMR: What are you working on now?

EM: I’m working on my next novel, a few short stories and some essays. The novel, as it is currently evolving, is a complete departure from Casualties.

KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?

EM: I tried everything with Casualties. I wrote thousands of pages and threw out hundreds. One thing that seems to be true for me: nothing happens unless I understand my people first. I have the basic story for my next novel but before I plot it out extensively, I want to make sure of them. That way, they can help me fill in the parts I don’t know.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

EM: I start with messy scenes and fragments, see what I’ve got, then write a draft. Then another draft, Then another one. Lots of drafts, lots of revisions. About half way through my work on Casualties, I threw out about 600 pages and was left with the last scene and a few disconnected chapters. That was the moment that got me closest to the book that was finally published.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

EM: There is always a deadline in my mind. I have only so many years on this planet and I want to use them as well as I can. Writing is an important part of that. These days, I feel worse when I’m not writing than when I’m struggling. Self-doubt comes with the territory. There is no getting away from it. I try to treat it as I would an itch or a cold, something temporary to be endured. The best medicine for self-doubt are writing friends who can listen and urge you on. Give yourself permission to write really awful stuff on days when it isn’t coming. Chances are you’ll stumble on a line that gets you to where you want to go the next day. Writing is like anything we’ve done in life and there is a way to draw confidence from that. We weren’t born experts in anything we’ve had to learn to do. We’ve had to figure it out, do it, practice some more. I say try anything – meditation, walking, screaming but sit down and write what you can each day even with the self-doubt riding on your shoulder.

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” Are there other writers in your family? 

EM: I was pretty young when I had dreams of writing but I was sixty when my book was published. I credit two teachers with spurring me in the direction of actually putting pen to page. The first was my third grade teacher Sister Maureen James and the second was my English teacher in high school. I wrote a story that made Sister laugh and then, later, an essay that my English teacher praised. There is at least one other member of my extended family in the business. My cousin Megan Mulry has written a series of women’s fiction novels and erotica. There may be others. I’ll start asking around! I do come from a family of die-hard readers and nothing fosters the desire to write more than reading.

KMR: You mention your ten siblings in your acknowledgements. I come from a family of six kids; I’m the third one down. I jokingly tell people I became a writer to have a voice. What role, if any, did growing up in a large family play in your becoming a writer?

EM: I’m the oldest of five and, later, my mom married a man with six kids. While still at home was always escaping into my own world. I read, I made up stories that I told to myself. I was the kid who would nod at everything my mother said while hearing nothing over the sound of my own thoughts and imaginings. I was the one who would disappear into the bathroom with a book when it was my night to do the dishes because the dishes could wait but the story I was reading could not.

KMR: When did you take up walking and how does it affect your writing? Do you go for long strolls or do you power walk to get your heart rate up? Do you have a walking partner?

EM: I began to walk in a serious way a couple of years ago. Until then, it had been something I did with my dogs (a lovely way to walk), but not a way of actually getting anywhere or of seeing anything. I gave myself a goal in 2015 to walk 800 miles for the year. I never came close but I did develop a habit that has led to so many wonderful things for me and my writing. I stroll and walk fast. I look for hills but my favorite thing is to walk the cliffs near my home and see what is new that day. I enjoy walking with others but I walk most often alone and I enjoy that too. I don’t walk with earphones in my ears and I try to notice something new each time.

Special OFFER:

To celebrate the first anniversary of Casualties, Betsy is offering a free copy of her novel to my readers. Winners can choose between a signed hard copy or a free e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks. To enter, comment below before midnight on Monday, February 6. The drawing will be held on Tuesday, February 7.


Elizabeth (Betsy) Marro is the author of Casualties, a novel about a single mother and defense executive who loses her son just when she thought he was home safe from his final deployment. Now she must face some difficult truths about her past, her choices, the war, and her son. A former journalist and recovering pharmaceutical executive, Betsy Marro’s work has appeared in such online and print publications as, The San Diego Reader, and on her blog at Originally from the “North Country” region of New Hampshire, she now lives in San Diego where she is working on her next novel, short fiction, and essays.  Casualties, published in February 2016 by the Berkley imprint of Penguin Random House, is her first novel.




Gypsy Muse Studio hosts author Kathleen M. Rodgers for Main Street Days in Grapevine, TX

Posted May 16, 2015

Gypsy Muse Studio 106 E Texas St, Grapevine, Texas
Gypsy Muse Studio, 106 E Texas St, Grapevine, Texas
L-R Literary agent Jeanie Loiacono, Claudia Hackett, Rhonda Revels, and author Kathleen M. Rodgers gather on the lawn of Gypsy Muse Studio in Grapevine, TX for Main Street Days. Kathleen signed copies of her novels, Johnnie Come Lately & The Final Salute.
Jeanie Loiacono, Claudia Hackett, Rhonda Revels, and author Kathleen M. Rodgers gather on the lawn of Gypsy Muse Studio in Grapevine, TX for Main Street Days. Kathleen signed copies of her novels, Johnnie Come Lately & The Final Salute. 
Kathleen with Claudia Hackett, who drove from Memphis, TN to meet Kathleen in person. Claudia and Kathleen met on Facebook years ago.
Kathleen with Claudia Hackett,  who drove from Memphis, TN to meet Kathleen in person. Claudia and Kathleen met on Facebook years ago.



Johnnie Come Lately’s fictional setting takes place in Portion, Texas, modeled after Grapevine. Anyone familiar with the area will recognize certain locations along historic Main Street, such as the Palace Theater and the corner bank building at Worth and Main. The cemetery along Dooley Street plays prominently in the story, as does the nearby lake.

L-R Claudia Hacket, Kathleen, and Meredith, an aviation mechanic from Savannah, GA who stopped by Kathleen's booth and left with autographed copies of Johnnie Come Lately and The Final Salute.
L-R Claudia Hackett, Kathleen, and Meredith, an aviation mechanic from Savannah, GA who stopped by Kathleen’s booth and left with autographed copies of Johnnie Come Lately and The Final Salute.





Johnnie Come Lately deals with the repercussions of a heat-of-the-moment confession, a son’s enlistment during wartime, and many other issues that American families deal with day to day. At the heart of the story is a woman whose mama has been missing for several years and the family secrets surrounding her disappearance.

Kathleen with Faith, the 14 year-old granddaughter of one of the owners of Gypsy Muse.
Kathleen with Faith, 14 year-old granddaughter of one of the owners of Gypsy Muse.







War Memorial in Johnnie Come Lately by Kathleen M. Rodgers

Posted April 14, 2015

A war memorial plays a significant role in my latest novel, Johnnie Come Lately.
Photo courtesy Brian Brown/Vanishing South Georgia
Photo courtesy Brian Brown/Vanishing South Georgia


Siobhan Fallon, Army wife and author of the critically acclaimed collection, You Know When the Men Are Gone, says this about my novel:  Johnnie Come Lately evokes the pathos of family life—secrets, betrayals, misunderstandings, heartbreak, and just enough love and forgiveness to make it all worth it. Kathleen M. Rodgers treats her haunted characters with keen insight and empathy, offering them the second, third, fourth chances that all of us flawed human beings need.”







Johnnie’s Journal

December, 1979

Portion, Texas


Dear Mama,

I’m up here at Soldiers Park, hoping you might come

swaying by with the breeze. Most of the leaves have dropped

and it’s getting cold. I asked the old soldier, the one you talk to

from time to time, if you’d happened by here lately, but he just

stands high on his pedestal, armed and ready, and gives me the

silent treatment.

He’s not about to give up your secrets—the secrets you pour

into him from this bench. Dark things hidden behind bronze

eyes that only seem to come alive for you.

Pick up the novel at