On April 26, at the National Capital Region Military Families Resource Centre (NCR-MFRC) in Ottawa, there was a gathering to celebrate the recent re-release of the children’s book We Have Superpowers/Nos superpouvoirs.
The book was written by military spouse Dr. Kari Pries and her sister, Kirsten, and it addresses the amazing role children play – just by being themselves – in the recovery of their parents’ or loved ones when they have been injured.
The event was attended by children from military families and veteran families, as well as Captain (ret’d) Helene le Scelleur, executive director for Supporting Wounded Veterans Canada, and Marie Andrée Malette, veterans Caregivers Advocate, whom both spoke of the experiences of military veterans.
Also in attendance was Deputy Minister for Veterans Affairs Canada Gen. (ret’d) Walter Natynczyk, and his wife Leslie Natynczyk, along with Gen (ret’d) Maurice Baril who Pries noted and thanked for their continued service to CAF military members and their families.
Nora Spinks, CEO the Vanier Institute of the Family also spoke at the event, as did the Honourable David McGuinty, Member of Parliament for Ottawa South, on behalf of the Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan.
McGuinty welcomed the book and expressed the Government of Canada’s continued support for military families.
It all started with Pries own journey to the 2016 Invictus games in Florida where she and her daughter went to watch her husband compete.
Dr. Pries’s partner, Major Simon Mailloux, was injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan and lost his leg to the knee. As this happened six years before their daughter was born, “she has known her whole life her dad with one good leg and with a robot leg. So that was something that was normal to her,” said Pries.
However, while in Florida, they saw many families with different types of injuries and different experiences. She started writing about the competitors, telling the story of their injuries, their families, and their recoveries for both the Canadian Military Family Magazine, as well as the Esprit de Corps. Interestingly, Pries had noted from her experience attending the 2016 Invictus Games and speaking with the participants that a “recurring feature of these stories was the role that children played in motivation.”
In 2017, during the lead up to the Invictus Games Toronto, Pries was part of the veterans and family advisory board that worked on the logistics of organizing the event and addressed the concerns of families and loved ones. It was through this that she came up with the idea of giving a gift to the children involved. This was not just any book, though, but one created especially for them and their family circumstances.
With only six weeks to write, illustrate and translate, she immediately contacted her sister, Kristen Pries, and asked for her help. She then asked Emma Laurie to help with the illustrations. Emma Laurie, an artist with a diploma in Children’s Illustration from the London Art College. Between them, they created a picture book for children aged 4 to 8.
It turns out that the story is unique, as there is not much out there that fills this need.
“We did the research before we wrote the book, about what other resources, what other children’s literature, was out there for children in that particular context, and we didn’t find anything,” said Pries.
Noting how important it is to address topics such as physical and mental injuries Pries said, “we want to ensure that people are having the conversations. It’s important to have a conversation because even if the children aren’t necessarily expressing that openly, it really helps to improve relationships and just to show that children that they’re valued and they’re loved.”
After her experience at the 2016 Invictus Games, where she heard so many stories about how children helped so greatly with recovery, Pries really wanted to convey a specific message to children whose parents or loved ones are recovering from injuries.
To those children, she says “there are other people that are there around you, around your loved ones, to support them and it’s their job to support them and help them along the way. But you are there as a bright light just by being yourself, and we want to celebrate that. That’s the message of the story.”
All of the copies of the book produced for the Invictus 2017 disappeared quickly. Now, through a grant from the True Patriot Love Foundation, the book is being reprinted with redone illustrations and will soon be available again to those who may benefit from it.
“With the book, we want to celebrate children who have lived through the injury, illness, or disability of a loved one,” said Pries.
As of June military families will be able to get free copies from their MFRC, or through the website. This year they will also be available at Camp Maple Leaf, where they will be leading discussions and games and activities related to the book.