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First time author earns honors, second run

Boo Boo Bear flew in fighter jets and trekked through the sands of Iraq, a talisman of love sent from Lake Nebagamon, Wis., to keep a father safe. The toy's mission didn't end there.

Boo Boo Bear flew in fighter jets and trekked through the sands of Iraq, a talisman of love sent from Lake Nebagamon, Wis., to keep a father safe. The toy's mission didn't end there.

The teddy bear became the star of a children's book, written by Mary Linda Sather of Duluth. Her granddaughter Shea Leigh Waterhouse had sent the beloved toy to her father, Sr. Master Sgt. Ron Waterhouse, during his second overseas deployment with the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing. Compiling the story of the toy's trip kept Sather focused and upbeat.

"I wanted to keep it positive," said the first-time author, and provide hope.

Sather, a long-time educator, incorporated drawings from military children who were coping with a loved one overseas, empowering them and giving the book more meaning. "Boo Boo Bear's Mission: The True Story of a Teddy Bear's Adventures in Iraq," was published in 2009 by Beaver's Pond Press of Edina, Minn. But the bear's mission wasn't done.

To date, the story of a child's toy in the midst of military action has garnered two awards - finalist in the Children's Picture Book Division at both the Indie Excellence Book Awards and the Midwest Book Awards - and is into its second printing. It has earned praise from those near and far.

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"They have given the Air National Guard a book that kids can relate to," said Jennifer Kuhlman, airmen and family readiness program manager for the 148th. "Previously we only had 'soldier' books with Army based families."

A copy of Boo Boo Bear's Mission is given to the children of all deploying 148th airmen, she said, along with a teddy bear.

"The combination of the book and bear bring to homes the opportunity to discuss deployments and how kids feel about their loved one being gone," Kuhlman said.

They, like Sather and her granddaughter, are members of "suddenly military" families

"With the call up of Guard and Reserve units since 9-11, the 'weekend warriors' and their families have had to meet many unexpected challenges," Sather said. "And they have done so with great honor as well as great sacrifice."

Becoming part of that group during her son's the first deployment made the Duluth woman more aware of others sharing her struggles. She heard their stories and saw their need. When her son headed overseas a second time, the bear followed. On his third tour of Iraq, Sather was putting the final touches on the award-winning work.

Sather hopes the finalist awards will give the book a broader exposure so more families can benefit from the work. Not only does it tell an honest, uplifting tale and feature children's artwork. The book also provides resources for parents - advice on how to open discussions with children about their feelings, strategies for helping a child cope with separation and activities those left behind can do to stay connected with their loved one overseas.

"My dream is to be able to take this book and travel around the country," Sather said. "Sharing with people" and helping them develop resources. Specifically, she wants to bring the book to the attention of military sources who don't know of it yet, so it can help others.

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Sather's passion is teaching. Boo Boo Bear's Mission has given her an opportunity to do so in a new way.

"Boo Boo had his mission to help families stay connected," the Duluth woman said. "My mission is to help kinds and families; to support kids and families as they deal with those challenges."

For more information on the book or Sather's speaking engagements, look it up online at www.boo-boo-bears-mission.net . "Boo Boo Bear's Mission" is available at local book stores, including Northern Lights, Fitger's, Explorations and Barnes & Noble. It can also be ordered directly through the Web site.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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