“Hero at Home” by Sarah Verardo
Independence Fund Publishing
34 pages, $15.99
Grace Verardo, 3, came home one day from preschool and told her mother: “Someone said Daddy is gross.”
Sarah Verardo spun into action. Her husband's war injuries were having a broader effect on her children than she had realized. Mike Verardo is a double amputee, but Grace had always known him simply as a “handsome hero.”
“I realized I needed to give them the tools to deal with what I've already been dealing with for years – the stares, the questions,” Sarah Verardo, 33, said of her three young daughters.
So she wrote and self-published “Hero at Home,” about a veteran who has a prosthetic leg, a wounded arm and a brain injury.
Her audience, she said, was her children, their classmates and people around the world who want to better understand veterans with severe war injuries.
“I'm his caregiver and case manager, but the most important thing I do is keep his dignity and my children's dignity. That was being challenged,” she said. “I wanted to explain to people: This is what it's like to live with war.”
Mike Verardo, 33, was an Army infantryman when he was hit by an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan in 2010. A few days later, he decided to return to his unit rather than go home to recuperate. Two weeks after that, he was struck by another explosive device. This time, it took off his left leg and arm and burned 30 percent of his body.
Proceeds from the book go to the Independence Fund, a nonprofit that helps severely wounded veterans and their families.
At the beginning of her book, illustrated by Inna Eckman, readers are introduced to Grace, her father and the war that left him wounded.
“This is Grace's dad. ... He was sent to Afghanistan to protect America and was wounded in action while fighting for our country. ... He wears a special leg that looks like it belongs on a robot. His arms were rebuilt with lots of tools,” it reads.
Then it shows a drawing of Grace on her dad's shoulders as he walks with a prosthetic leg and a red cape. There's also a scene of him on an all-terrain wheelchair at the beach with Grace's sisters on his lap.
The next page is a critical one, because it says something that Sarah Verardo said many people don't understand: “Grace's dad is still working hard to get better.”
The idea of ongoing recovery is something Sarah Verardo said she is constantly explaining to people.
She said her husband, who has a shy personality and turns from the spotlight, is happy with the book and its empowering message. One page shows him at Arlington National Cemetery saluting the headstones for three close friends killed in Afghanistan.
While the Verardos' lives are not easy, they feel lucky that he came home from the war alive, even if his body is different.
“Grace's daddy tells her that sometimes people get hurt and their bodies change,” reads the book. “But they still have the same heart.”
Sarah Verardo said her kids love the book, as well. When Grace first saw it, her mother recounts, she said, “This is the book about me and Daddy!” And she wants to show it to all her friends.
“She proudly tells everybody her daddy fought the bad guys and he won,” Verardo said.