The following is an interview with Jerilyn Marler, the author of Lily Hates Goodbyes. 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 have been a military child, wife, and mother. My father was a Navy physician when I was a child. My first husband was in the Army during the first few years of our marriage and my current husband was in the Navy before we met. Also, my son was in the Navy for 12 years. After my father left the military, we moved to India where my parents worked at a hospital for 8 years. My sisters and I attended boarding school and would go for months—sometimes 8 or 9 months—without seeing our parents. I experienced separations of one sort or another throughout much of my childhood.
My illustrator, Nathan Stoltenberg, has had no military experience but he has incredible artistic talent. Prior to us collaborating, he had never illustrated a children’s book and I had never published a children’s book. We both, however, wanted to do so. We got along famously. Hanging on the wall over my computer is his original concept drawing of “Book Lily,” as I call her. I asked him to change the color of her hair and eyes, otherwise it was perfect.
What made you decide to write this book? Was there some incident or experience that inspired you?
I wrote Lily Hates Goodbyes for Lily, my 4-year-old granddaughter who was distraught by her daddy’s deployment aboard the USS MOMSEN. She was acting out and clearly hurting, yet she could not talk about her feelings or the experience of her daddy being gone. I wrote the text in Word with personal photos as illustrations. It was intended just for Lily. She really related to “Book Lily.” We talked about what “Book Lily” was feeling, what she did to feel better, and how it was okay to feel all of those things, even though they are sometimes scary. As I read pages from the book, my Lily would say, “Me too!” and not feel so alone. One night she asked me to sing the book to her. She drew pictures of her feelings. Her picture of sadness was particularly poignant. “Book Lily” helped my Lily trust that her daddy would come home and that they would have a happy hello. She even practiced how she would greet him by jumping from the bed into my arms. The book helped Lily so much that I decided to publish it for all young children who suffer through long separations from a loved one.
Since my son was in the Navy, “Book Dad” wears a Navy uniform in the first version (the Navy version) of the book. I heard from parents who wanted a version of “Book Dad” in their branch’s uniform. It was not feasible to cover each branch of the military, so the illustrator created an All Military version with “Book Dad” wearing a generic battle dress uniform with no specific reference to any branch. That has been very successful.
Following the publication of Lily Hates Goodbyes, parents asked for more suggestions of how to help, so I wrote Helping Your Young Child Cope with a Parent’s Deployment. I included many of the ways that Lily’s mom and I helped her feel connected to her daddy even though he was about a billion miles away. For example, Lily sometimes sat on my lap while I was at my computer writing an email to my son. She banged away on the keys “writing” to daddy. Then below what she wrote, I typed the translation as she dictated to me what she had written. Her daddy loved those emails.
What message(s) do you hope that children and families receive as a result of reading your book?
As a result of reading my book I hope children and families discover that whatever they feel is okay to feel, and that talking about feelings and how one copes with those feelings all matter. Children need a steadfast and loving adult to help them through the turbulence. Children also need to trust that there will be a happy hello at the end of the separation.
Have you received any feedback from military families after they read your book, and if so, what have they said?
I love hearing from readers. Sometimes I receive personal messages through my website and sometimes they arrive as a result of reviews on Amazon. Lily Hates Goodbyes has been embraced by children all around the world because separations are not limited to the US military. Parents share how their children love “Book Lily” and how the book has helped them. One mother shared, “The difference you are making in our lives and others in the same situation is just not measurable. I truly believe that your book is going to help us survive this deployment.” Family Readiness Groups have purchased the book in bulk for their personnel. I do not do any advertising; sales are entirely by word of mouth. With every purchase I rejoice that another child will find a friend in “Book Lily.”
Do you have plans to write another book? If so, what is the focus of that book and when might we expect to see it?
My 30+ years of writing, editing, and publishing are in nonfiction and technical material. I did not even realize that I had written a children’s book until I assembled the first version in a three-ring binder to read to my granddaughter Lily. I remember thinking, “Huh! Look at that! I wrote a children’s book!” The two versions of Lily Hates Goodbyes and the parent handbook were born out my passionate desire to help my granddaughter. I have kicked around the idea of other children’s books, but nothing has taken root…yet.
Are there any other books that might be relevant for young military children that you would suggest?
Oh gosh, yes. Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut is sweet. Sandra Miller Linhart wrote Daddy’s Boots and Momma’s Boots. Kudos to her for covering both genders! I recommend searching for “military children books” on Amazon. The books I mentioned, and Lily Hates Goodbyes, will be on the list.