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'Heroes in the Sandbox'

Tracey Tischler (front) and Tricia Sterling sit in Sterling's home. They wrote "Heroes in the Sandbox," a children's book to explain why their parent is in Iraq or Afghanistan. (Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner)

Tricia Sterling and Tracey Tischler are close friends who discuss all their good ideas with each other.

Last fall, Tischler shared her desire to write and publish a children's book so kids can understand why their parent in military service is gone.

Sterling, of Cottage Grove, didn't have to give it a thought; she was on board with her friend.

Tischler, of White Bear Lake, got the idea last October, after talking with Rand Shotton, an Army captain who flies medical evacuation helicopters.

After hearing a story about one soldier's sadness when leaving to go to the Middle East, she realized that children feel sad and need help coping.

"We have so many problems here with people just trying to live their lives," Tischler said in an interview Jan. 21 at Sterling's home. "The kids need to know why they're over there."

Though neither woman knows anyone who has served during a war, they wrote "Heroes in the Sandbox."

But it wasn't time to say: "mission accomplished" just yet.

They needed an illustrator and found one an hour after listing their plea on

They chose Jana Schweiss, a graphic artist whose husband was deployed in Iraq at the time.

They also honored Shotton by putting his initials in small letters on the soldier's sleeve on the cover.

The budding authors use the concept of bullying to explain the need for their parents to defend American freedom.

Once done, it was time to find a publisher.

Both are experienced in finding information and discovered publishing can be a long process from book to actual printing. Also, they were afraid their vision of what the book should look like would be tossed aside.

Intended for children from birth to 8 years old, the authors decided to self-publish through AuthorHouse.

"It's very rare when you find someone like Tracey who shares your vision," Sterling said. "We were always helping other people with marketing."

With 75 copies of the book sold in a month, including 25 to Cottage Grove VFW Post 8752, they're proud of their effort and are doing their own marketing.

Sterling wrote to Oprah Winfrey and the Pentagon and is waiting for official permission to send a copy to President Barack Obama.

The book is also available through Barnes and Noble and

When there is a profit, after recouping the $1,500 to write and publish, they will give half of it to a military family-support organization.

"It's not about us," Tischler said. "It's something I had to do."

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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