Local teddy bear 'deployed' to Iraq inspires book

Sometimes great sadness can blossom into even greater joy. Such is the case with Duluth author Mary Linda Sather's children's book "Boo Boo Bear's Mission."...

Mary Linda Sather
Local author Mary Linda Sather poses with the star of her award-winning children's book "Boo Boo Bear's Mission: The True Story of a Teddy Bear's Adventures in Iraq." Matthew R. Perrine/Budgeteer News

Sometimes great sadness can blossom into even greater joy. Such is the case with Duluth author Mary Linda Sather's children's book "Boo Boo Bear's Mission."

When Sather's son was deployed to Iraq a second time, his youngest daughter, Shea Leigh, took it pretty hard.

"She kind of figured he'd go once and that would be it, so she was pretty unhappy," Sather told the Budgeteer.

But the story didn't end there, of course.

"Being a resourceful kid, she figured maybe one thing she could do to take her mind off some of her loneliness -- and her dad's as well -- would be to send her most precious possession: a teddy bear which had been with her since she was born," Sather said. "Her grandpa and I had put it under the Christmas tree the Christmas before she was born, so the bear's a little older than she is. [Laughs]"


Shea Leigh stuck "Boo Boo Bear" in the next care package her mother put together for her father.

"When her mom called to tell me about it, it was just so sweet that I thought, OK, we have to do this story for the family," Sather said. "There was also a hope that it would help support other families as well.

"I'm finding out that that is the case; I'm getting a lot of good feedback as I go around. That gives me a lot of pleasure."

It's easy to see that the author treats the "Boo Boo Bear" project as more than just a collection of sentences and images. In other words, it's more than just a book to Sather.

"Boo Boo had his mission, and mine is to get the word out about the story and the book so that it can be useful to families," she said.

"Boo Boo Bear's Mission: The True Story of a Teddy Bear's Adventures in Iraq" took Sather two years to put together, but every minute the longtime educator (now busy as ever in "retirement") poured into the book has been paying off.

In addition to spending time with military families and with the schoolchildren she misses so much -- both of which are experiences she deems "really rewarding" -- this book has also helped to establish her as a children's author.

Even Minnesota's first lady has been helping spread the word about Sather's craft.


"[Your book] underscores many deeper, important messages, including the significance of recognizing the difficult sacrifices military families are asked to make," Mary Pawlenty wrote to the author. "I share your commitment to honor our brave military families and applaud your efforts to acknowledge these individuals through a book that is appropriate for the numerous children who, like your own family, know firsthand the hardship that comes when their dad or mom is deployed."

Sather, ever the humble educator, takes that kind of high praise in stride.

"I'm pleased that the book has gotten recognition," she told us. "To me, that means more people will probably find out about it and, therefore, more families will have the opportunity to make life a little better for themselves."

'Bedbugs and Ballyhoo'

As successful as "Boo Boo Bear's Mission" has been, Sather isn't content to rest on her laurels.

"I'll do this as long as I can. ... I've been playing around with writing all of my life, finally getting things together after I retired," the Duluth-raised author said with a laugh. "The writing bug has always been there. I did stuff when I was a kid; I have boxes and boxes of notes, and a particular notebook I use once I start flushing out ideas."

Sather went on to say that she has no shortage of ideas -- it's just hard to pick which ones to concentrate on and turn into books. (In fact, before Shea Leigh offered up Boo Boo Bear to her father, Sather was all ready to go on another book.)

Another obstacle she faces is that it's not just about coming up with great ideas in today's marketplace.


"There's a lot more after the writing than I ever realized," she said. "I thought that just going through the process was interesting.

"... These days, unless you're a million-book bestseller, you end up doing a lot of the marketing and publicity on your own."

Things were certainly different when some of her most beloved children's books were published (including "Woofus the Woolly Dog" and Margaret Wise Brown's "The Sleepy Little Lion"), but Sather remains an optimist when it comes to the hours she has to spend "selling" her book.

"While I've enjoyed it, tons, that is what really takes the time," she said of the myriad appearances she's had to make. "So I work really hard at that, then I get the treat of going out and being able to work with kids or family groups."

Sather said she's always amazed at the types of questions today's young readers ask of her.

"With school kids, it's a combination of questions about the bear, characters in the story and the writing process: 'Is Shea Leigh's dad home now?' -- that's a big one, and I can say, 'Yes, his last deployment ended last year,'" the author said. "They ask, 'How far did Boo Boo travel?' And this blows my mind: 'Where did you get the inspiration for the book?' It will come from some little kid.

"Another kid -- get this -- asked me, 'Do you think that Shea Leigh's dad got in touch with his inner child because of this story?' [Laughs]

"Just really interesting things."


But Sather is able to relate to her young fans; one way she does so is by reading what they read.

"I usually don't leave a bookstore without a kids' book," she said. "There's a lot of really great material out there."

This stems from a lifetime fascination with books of all genres and types.

"Books have been a huge part of my life," Sather said, mentioning that before she was able to read, her grandfather would read the comics to her. "... I always had my nose in a book.

"My incentive in school to get my schoolwork done was being able to read: Get your work done and the teacher will leave you alone so you can read.

"Reading opens so many worlds, on so many levels; and being able to read does open doors for you as well."

Learn more about Mary Linda Sather's award-winning children's book "Boo Boo Bear's Mission," which was illustrated by children of both military and civilian families, at .

What To Read Next
Get Local