The following is an interview with Melinda Hardin and Bryan Langdo, the author and illustrator of Hero Mom and Hero Dad. Melinda, the book’s author, earned a MS in mental health counseling from University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is married with two children. Bryan, the book’s illustrator, has been drawing since childhood. He has studied under several talented artists. He earned his BA in English at Rutgers College. He has worked with a number of publishers illustrating picture books, chapter books, workbooks, character design, magazine spots, flash cards, and even a couple of mazes. Bryan also is co-owner of the publishing group Gorilla Publishing. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and two children. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What, if any, experiences do you and/or your book’s illustrator have with the military?
I do not come from a military family. I met my husband when he was a Captain in the Army. He left the service when we got married, this was about 6 months before 9/11. After 9/11, my husband wanted to be involved professionally with the Department of Defense in some way, so we went to Germany and he started civilian work for the Department of the Army. He’s still with them and we now live in CA, and he is the Deputy to the Garrison Commander at the Presidio of Monterey. I have been involved with the military as I have attended several awesome events/fundraisers that were put on by the spouses group and enjoyed my interactions with them over the years.
My grandfather was in the Coast Guard during World War II, and my dad (a civilian) worked on an army base as an engineer.
What made you decide to write this book? Was there some incident or experience with the military that inspired you?
I was living in Germany at the time and working at Grafenwoehr Elementary, an American school on the base in Grafenwoehr. At this time, pretty much all the students were dealing with deployments. I started looking for books for the younger children to help them with this challenge and I could not find any. A kindergarten teacher had a bulletin board up showing the parents of her students with super hero capes and that sparked Hero Dad. Hero Mom came later. I never knew what inspired the teacher to create this bulletin board. She was a great teacher who always had very inspiring boards. I had wanted to write the book as I felt that there was great need for such stories, but since it was a smaller market, I was not sure it would work out and have much appeal. I was really happy when Marshall Cavendish asked me to write it for many publishing houses do not take on products that they assume might have such as restricted market.
When I was offered the job of illustrating Hero Dad (the precursor to Hero Mom), I said yes right away. Most of the books I’ve worked on have been light-hearted and fun. I was excited for the challenge of working on a book that tackles a serious topic, creating child-friendly art that does not make light of the subject matter. I also think it is important that kids in military families have books that speak directly to them and the fears they must have.
What message(s) do you hope that children and families receive as a result of reading your book?
Being a child is tough, and I think it is doubly so when you have a parent whose work takes you away to faraway places and situations you cannot understand. I wanted to help make children’s lives a little better by giving them a point of pride in their parents’ occupations, and giving children and parents a place to connect…a story to share.
While working on the illustrations, I kept trying to imagine what it must be like for a young kid whose mom or dad is in a dangerous situation halfway around the world. If my illustrations can in any way help to ease some of that child’s fears or assure her that her mom or dad is doing important work, then I’m happy.
Have you received any feedback from military families after they read your book, and if so, what have they said?
I have received a lot of feedback from military families. The feedback has been really positive and it appears that many families have appreciated my books. I have had a lot of feedback about Hero Mom, for acknowledging the many roles moms play in our military. The fact that it highlights role models for girls is very important to many readers. Because the book is accessible to young readers, families and teachers of young children appreciate that it furthers the child’s understanding of living in a military family, presented in a positive way.
I haven’t received any direct feedback, but the reviews online (from military families) have been overwhelmingly positive.
The OneOp team has put together a one page guided discussion handout for Hero Mom which providers can use with young children and their families. You can access the handout here.