100 Days and 99 Nights is the story of Esme, a second-grader whose father is in the military and must leave for a tour of duty for 100 days and 99 nights. Esme narrates the story and I found myself completely absorbed in her journey as she navigates through the days without her father. The supporting characters of her mother, brother and Grandpa are well-defined and just as real as Esme in voice and action.
For children whose parents are in the military and have to handle this exact situation I cannot imagine a better story to help them identify and express their own feelings. Esme’s story is just as applicable to those of us who have not had the specific experience of a parent leaving for a military tour of duty. Anyone who has had to deal with the absence of a loved one for an extended period of time will feel the similarities in both Esme’s sad and joyful moments.
The thing I like the best about Esme’s story is that Esme does not simply suffer passively through her time without her dad. She actively finds things to do and think that help her move through the time in a way that creates love and support for those around her. She also finds a way to help her father and his fellow soldiers in a tangible way, which, in turn, helps her feel an active participant in bringing him home.
Esme is a great example for children AND adults of the choices we can make to buoy up those around us in difficult times, while still acknowledging our own fears and feelings of sadness. I think most of us usually feel better and stronger when we can do something that contributes in a very real way to a situation that feels out of our control; Esme is a dynamite role model in this area!
Esme’s voice is genuinely that of a seven or eight-year-old. Her frustrations with the things grown-ups say and do will ring true to all her readers. Both her worries and her acknowledgement of her feelings and her fears also resonate with their honesty. As an older sibling myself I absolutely identified with both Esme’s frustrations with and affections for her little brother Ike.
I think this is an excellent option for a read-aloud in a 2nd or 3rd grade class. It’s also a great bedtime/family reading choice. Its advantages for any military family living through a similar situation are obvious, but it also provides a great platform for discussion about what we can do here for the men and women serving our country away from home, about feelings of loss, how to deal with serious worries, and about how families can love and support each other.
I am grateful this book was a Lovelace Award nominee. I don’t think I would have chosen to read it otherwise and I am very glad that I did! I definitely recommend this book as either a read-aloud or an independent reading choice.