Camouflage Mom by Sarah Hovorka & Elif Balta Parks

subtitled A Story About Staying Connected.

Wow, this is a weird one for me to review. Coming at it from the perspective of a (theoretical) child whose parent has entered the military, I absolutely appreciate having a book like this, to console a kid who’s missing their parent and to assure them that the bond they have with said parent isn’t at all endangered by distance. This is especially important for kids whose parents have only recently enlisted. I also like that the parent in question here is specifically a mom, as women enter the military in substantial numbers too. I find it particularly meaningful that this story is based on Sarah Hovorka’s own childhood experience of having her mother enlist in the army back in 1987.

It’s always important to emphasize to kids that just because their parents’ work takes them far away from home, the bond between parent and child is not easily breakable, especially when the parent puts in the effort. And it’s just as important for parents to acknowledge that the child is doing hard emotional work in adapting — kids might be resilient, but parents need to understand that change of this magnitude isn’t easy or painless. This is the kind of book that’s perfect in helping to bridge that gap between parent and child, in making emotions clear for each part of the relationship.

Elif Balta Parks’ art is very cute and expressive, perfectly capturing the life of the little girl who misses her mom and is a little frightened by all the changes. I do wish that there’d been a little more diversity in the depictions of the soldiers, tho the soldiering activities otherwise are all shown in a very engaging and age-appropriate way.

It’s just hard for me to review a book that so unquestioningly accepts the necessity of soldiering and the military-industrial complex. And I know, I know, that’s well beyond the scope of a book that seeks mostly to comfort kids from the perspective of an author who’s been in this situation herself. I’m not even disputing the fact that nations need militaries, and I deeply respect the work my friends do in the Navy (tho don’t think for a minute that that latter doesn’t color my opinion of underused Army grunts and the appalling contrast between overinflated budgets and lack of funding for mental health. Go Navy, lol.)

I just can’t shake how this book feels like borderline propaganda to me. It’s weird being a book critic who’s reviewed hundreds of books in my lifetime yet who somehow can’t find the words to explain why this innocuous, well-meaning title feels almost dangerous. It’s wonderful on a micro/personal level, as a gift to give to a child working through a similar situation. But on a macro level, as something to have readily available to hand out to kids whose parents suddenly leave them for military service, it feels uncomfortably dystopian.

I’m likely overthinking it, and I’m definitely not casting aspersions on the aims of either author or illustrator. This just seems like the kind of book that the military-industrial complex will gleefully use to normalize separating parents from kids. I hope I’m just being overly sensitive, and taking way too broad a view of a very specific emotional topic.

Camouflage Mom by Sarah Hovorka & Elif Balta Parks was published July 1 2024 by Cardinal Press and is available from all good booksellers, including

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