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The moment Sarah Verardo realized how much children need to learn about the effects of war was when her daughter heard some upsetting words about her father at preschool.
"I heard a little girl say to our daughter that Grace's dad was weird and gross because he didn't have a leg,'' Verardo said on TODAY Monday. "My children never knew anything was wrong or different about their dad until other people started to tell them."
The more Verardo paged through Grace's children's books, the more she realized that none of the characters resembled her husband, Michael, a retired U.S. Army sergeant who suffered extensive injuries in 2010 after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
"I was actually really surprised that there was not another book that tangibly taught children about the physical injuries of war,'' she said. "Not anything that I can find that showed what it looks like when dad looks different."
The mom of three young daughters decided to do something about it, writing and self-publishing a children's book called "Hero at Home" to help kids understand the physical toll of war.
"I wrote it for those that didn't come home, those who gave their lives,'' she said. "Thirty-seven of the men that Mike left for Afghanistan with never came back. So there's no way to feel other than we are the lucky ones."
All the proceeds from the book's sales go to the non-profit Independence Fund. Verardo is the executive director of the Charlotte-based fund, which provides resources for wounded veterans such as mobility devices, caregivers and adaptive sports.
The book, featuring illustrations by Inna Eckman, depicts Michael with his prosthetics enjoying time with Grace.
"This is Grace’s dad. He was sent to Afghanistan to protect America and was wounded in action while fighting for our country,'' the book reads. "He wears a special leg that looks like it belongs on a robot. His arms were rebuilt with lots of tools."
Michael has endured more than 100 surgeries since losing his left leg and having his left arm paralyzed in the IED attack. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury and has had to learn to walk and read again.
"His recovery is still very much ongoing,'' Verardo said.
She hopes the book will help children understand why some parents may look different.
"I was very proud of my wife and how she did it,'' Michael Verardo said. "It's almost like a family album with our day-to-day."
"This gives them a really easy way to share it, understand it, and be really proud of his military service,'' she said of her daughters.
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