Christopher SanFilippo dreams of joining the military when he grows up. So he was thrilled to meet veteran Manny Jimenez face-to-face at Birch Lane Elementary School in Massapequa Park last November.
“I couldn’t believe he was in the classroom,” said SanFilippo, 9, now a fourth-grader. “He's a big hero to me because he fought for our country and he survived a war.”
Valerie Pfundstein, a kindergarten support specialist at Birch Lane Elementary School, had SanFilippo as a student in her kindergarten class years ago, but invited him back to meet Jimenez, a Purple Heart recipient, who spoke to students this past Veterans Day.
A few months later, Pfundstein began writing the children’s book “Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood,” about a young boy who learns about veterans in school and discovers that military heroes can be found within his community.
The rhyming picture book, for children ages 5 and up, is meant to foster an appreciation at a young age for the servicemen and women who could be their neighbors. The book will be released on Nov. 12, but can be pre-ordered through Barnes & Noble. Her publisher, Greenwich, Conn.-based Novanglus Publishing, has said it will donate 10 percent of the book’s profits to Hope for the Warriors, a national nonprofit that supports post-9/11 wounded American service members, their families and families of fallen soldiers.
“I went out on a limb to do something like this because there’s nothing like it,” said Pfundstein, 47, of Deer Park. “These kids should have more pride in their country and be aware of what these veterans have done for them.”
Jimenez, a Marine corporal who was severely wounded two years ago in Afghanistan, lost his left arm, sight in his left eye and some hearing in his left ear when a bomb exploded.
“A lot of kids don’t notice that they could be standing next to a veteran,” said Jimenez, 23, of Glastonbury, Conn. “The book will open their eyes.”
Pfundstein based one of the characters in the book on her grandfather, Frank Falotico, who served in the Navy during World War II and died in 1983 at age 74.
“The story itself is fictional, but it’s based on the people she knows and have been important in her life,” said Novanglus Publishing founder Michelle Peacock, who connected Pfundstein with Austin, Texas illustrator Aaron Anderson to complete the project. “There will be a double-page spread of actual photos and real information about the veterans in the back of the book to pay tribute to them and their service.”
Another character in the book is based on Pfundstein’s neighbor, Edna Coby, who joined the Navy at age 22 and who now works for an educational game distributor in Deer Park.
“Children need something like this book to help them understand the sacrifices people have made for this country,” said Coby, 90. Coby lost her son Jonathan after he was killed in 1984 at age 22 in a helicopter crash during an Army training exercise.
“In order for children to understand, she puts it in their perspective,” Coby said. “If you put a meaning in story form it will stick with them.”
Above: Valerie Pfundstein, 47, of Deer Park, a kindergarten support specialist at Birch Lane Elementary School in Massapequa Park, is publishing a children's rhyming picture book, “Veterans: Heroes in Our Neighborhood,” to be released on Veterans Day, Nov. 12. (Sept. 12, 2012)