When Atlanta author Shermaine Perry-Knights wrote “I Move a Lot and That’s Okay!” she wanted to create an opportunity for military children to talk about all the feelings that accompany relocation. Now, she’s giving young readers space to celebrate and nurture long-distance friendships in her new book, “I Miss My Friend and That’s Okay!”
As a military child, her father’s Air Force career took Perry-Knights around the world and opened the door to meaningful experiences and friendships in new countries and Department of Defense Education Activity schools – specifically, 13 in five countries.
“[This] gave me a deep appreciation for culture, for traveling, for trying new things, for being flexible on a dime, and just meeting new people and holding on to them,” Perry-Knights said. “You develop really quick, deep friendships.”
Military relationships are especially unique, she said, because of living in a community of others going through the same experience.
“A lot of times, the folks in your community become family, more so than the family who never visits, because they are there every single day breathing the highs and lows of the lifestyle in the host nation that you’re in,”
But these connections were often bittersweet, since moving on was almost always inevitable.
For Perry-Knights, moving to a new duty station brought both feelings of excitement for the new friends she would make and sadness over having to leave old friends behind.
“How do I hold on to the pieces of me that existed before and still make room for new people?” she would ask herself during these transitional times.
Between lessons gleaned during her time at DODEA schools, her many moves and observing a lack of bicultural military family representation in literature, Perry-Knights knew she had ample inspiration not only for one book for military kids, but for two.
In “I Miss My Friend and That’s Okay!” Perry-Knights provides young readers and their parents with tools she wishes she had been able to use as a military child.
“Now that we’re writing in this space [for military children], it’s not just reading a book, it’s a chance for you [parents] to have a difficult conversation with your kid about love and loss and things being broken and expecting new adventures,” Perry-Knights said.
Hoping to give children both the room to acknowledge their emotions and a sense of empowerment, she chronicles what Grace (the main character in Perry-Knights’s first book) experiences as she moves to Naples, Italy, and keeps in touch with her friend, Kerrington, who is stateside at Fort Moore (previously Fort Benning), Georgia.
In their letters, the girls reminisce, talk about what life is like in Italy and Georgia, and recount friendships new and old.
Although feelings of sadness, guilt and uncertainty often accompany a military move as young people navigate new social settings and friendships – just as Grace does in Italy – Perry-Knights said parents can help children view the change as an opportunity for possibility and empowerment.
She recommends finding ways to give kids choices in their daily activities before a big move so they have a sense of agency.
“Instead of it happening to them, it becomes more of an inclusive process,” she said.
Once they’ve arrived in a new community, Perry-Knights encourages children to keep in touch with friends through activities like sharing pictures or writing letters so the relationships can be nurtured from afar.
Journaling is another meaningful and effective outlet Perry-Knights suggested.
“I like the idea of creating space for children to talk about their difficult moments,” she said, in lieu of brushing off or bottling up their emotions.
It’s Perry-Knights’s hope that characters like Grace provide more opportunity for military children to process change, hold on to meaningful friendships, and know that whatever they’re feeling, it’s OK.Read comments