I’m always looking for books to read about military families. There are plenty of books out there for military spouses and quite a few picture books for young children, but there seems to be a void when it comes to chapter books for military brats in elementary school. So when I was offered the opportunity to review Piper Reed: Navy Brat, the first book in Kimberly Willis Holt’s Piper Reed series, I jumped at the chance.
Piper Reed: Navy Brat is the story of an adventurous 9-year-old girl who happens to be the daughter of a Navy Chief. She suddenly finds herself moving yet again, this time from San Diego to Pensacola. She’s not new to PCS moves. In fact, in addition to San Diego, she’s lived in Texas, Guam, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. But this is the first time she’s had to move during the school year. And that’s not easy for a fourth-grader. The book follows Piper as she travels cross-country, moves into a new house, starts a new school, makes new friends, and copes with the fact that her father is about to deploy on a ship for six months.
Despite the fact that Amazon says the recommended age range for this book is 9 to 12, I decided to read it to my own children. At first I thought my 4-year-old daughter wouldn’t understand it and that my 7-year-old son would lose interest because the main character is a girl. But my concerns were quickly dismissed when they started chanting every night at bedtime, “Piper, Piper, Piper!”
While I think my daughter liked the book because it was about a girl with a firecracker personality like herself, I don’t think she fully comprehended the military brat connection. That’s not surprising considering that she doesn’t remember living anywhere but where we are now. But my son definitely appreciated the parallels between Piper and himself, and he enjoyed hearing about situations he’d been through before. His ears perked up when Piper and her family got to their new house and had to have a picnic on the floor because their furniture hadn’t arrived yet and when Piper wanted to spend time alone with her father before he deployed. He was able to relate to Piper and aspects of her lifestyle that most kids don’t understand.
As a parent, I loved that the book acted as a conversation starter with my son, who, as a second grader, isn’t particularly inclined to have meaningful discussions with me if the subject matter isn’t Star Wars or Legos. After finishing a chapter, we’d talk about quotes from the book such as, “I wondered what it would be like to live near my grandparents all year long” or we’d reminisce about all of the places our family had lived or visited thanks to the military. I also loved the fact that the book focused as much on Piper’s identity as a military brat as it did on her identity as a regular kid trying to find her place in the world. Just like Piper, being military brats is only one part of what makes my children who they are.
Piper Reed: Navy Brat is a wonderful story that will entertain military brats as well as their parents. But don’t take my word for it, ask my son. He gave the book two thumbs up and declared that he wants to read all the other books in the series to find out what happens next to Piper. I have to admit I’m curious myself. Piper Reed is a character you won’t soon forget.