Last Thursday, second lady Jill Biden came to the Library of Congress to read her children’s book Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops to the sons and daughters of military families. I usually spend my time at the Library focusing on promoting literature to adults, but on that day I thought about its impact on a younger audience. As Dr. Biden read to a sea of tiny faces (in all, there were more than 400 children in the Coolidge Auditorium), I began to feel that, for these children, literature offers an equal, if not more useful, way to verbalize and comprehend the complicated ways in which they’re affected by some very adult challenges. The program was the first Books & Beyond for Young People event, sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book.
I think that Dr. Biden, whom Librarian of Congress James H. Billington introduced as “the godmother of good causes,” understands better than I the struggle her audience faces. Before reading, she stated, “I am a military family” and explained that her two stepsons had been deployed. She even brought along her granddaughter Natalie, whose words inspired the book, to read the final page. Dr. Biden and Natalie seemed equally affected by the book—each page ended with the refrain “Be brave, Natalie,” though it seemed apparent that the speaker was not only asking bravery from Natalie but from herself.
After the reading, the children and their families excitedly met and took pictures with Dr. Biden. Many talked with her about their own mothers, fathers and family members who had been deployed. One little audience member even talked to her about his “Daddy Doll,” a familiar way for military children to cope with the absence of loved ones. I was surprised to see so many kids share a vocabulary of love and loss. Thankfully, Dr. Biden’s book serves as a way to unearth the courage and compassion buried beneath their own confusion.
Dr. Biden had a busy day at the Library—she went on to visit the Young Readers Center, where children can read the poems and stories in the books shelved there. At the center, Dr. Biden signed a copy of her book for the YRC and learned about the many ways the Library reaches out to children, such as our Letters About Literature program competition. I was struck by the way Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops spoke to multiple audiences with compassion and hope, and it reminded me of how literature—be it for children or adults—connects us to one another.