KIRKUS REVIEWS: Spanky McDougal, a
spirited middle schooler, must overcome
bullies and self-doubt in LaNeve’s debut
For a middle schooler, Spanky McDougal
has a lot on his plate. He just moved to
Florida and started a new school where he
must contend with bullies and crushes.
The hardest part is that his dad is about to
be shipped off to war. With his mother
unable to cope, Spanky must learn to help
her. But he’s still a kid, and he’s mired in
a kid’s tribulations. Mack, an overgrown
bully, makes Spanky’s life miserable;
Jazz, a beautiful classmate, captures his
heart; and Dar, a dorky know-it-all, is his
only real friend. To top it off, Spanky
volunteered to help out on the annual
camping trip, an ordeal in itself.
LaNeve’s coming-of-age tale strikes a
wonderful confidence-building tone for
young readers. Spanky’s distinct, honest
voice engenders empathy. Best of all,
LaNeve doesn’t shy away from dealing
with complex issues like war, bullying
and depression.
The compelling Spanky has one major
flaw that many kids will completely
understand: Every time he has a chance
to prove himself, he freezes. He can’t stand
up to Mack and can’t save his teacher
when she collapses, even though he
knows CPR. But the mysterious and
magical substitute teacher Ms. Badu just
may have the power to help not only
Spanky, but Mack too. The novel comes to
a tense conclusion during the camping
trip; Spanky might finally get the chance
to prove his worth to everyone and himself.
LaNeve leaves her young readers with an
important message: It’s better to talk about
your problems and get help than let them
overwhelm you.
An endearing novel; may inspire
young readers to find the hero in

             * * *
        Dr. Lori Kleinman, Veteran Air       
                   Force Psychologist/Officer
"This is a wonderfully insightful         
               book filled with many tender and
delightful moments. As a veteran United
States Air Force Officer/ Psychologist who
was active duty throughout 911 and its
aftermath, I am impressed with the honesty
and integrity of this book. Spanky's
communications with Dad during his
deployment demonstrate the power of love
and hope even during trying times. Life
may have its problems but Spanky's story
shows how young people can find strength
and solutions both through the help of
others and within themselves."
L. McNeilly, Teacher,
Santa Cruz, CA
"Spanky is a believable, loveable young man who
wants to make his dad proud. But how can he do
that when his dad is thousands of miles away at
war, and already the greatest hero in the family?
This coming of age tale laces the natural desires
of a young man to stand up and be counted with
the fears that come with having a deployed
parent. Add in the family's move to a brand new
town, and you have a story with realistic,
multi-layered complexity. LaNeve has drawn the
characters well, set them in a situation that is
both relevant and balanced, and written scenes
cleanly. The story has marvelous
unpredictability. Middle grade readers will love
the journey as Spanky finds his own hero within,
facing his challenges and fears with huge heart."
             * * *
K. N. Tipper, Vermont
Both my daughter and I came to the same
conclusion after reading SPANKY...: this book is a
timely and heartfelt story that will resonate with
all readers, most especially those tied to the
Clearly La Neve did tons of research to portray
Spanky, his family and their circumstances as
authentically as possible, and her efforts show.
Definitely worth the read!"
                 * * *
C. Allen - New Orleans, LA
"Any kid who has ever had to enter a
new school, or for that matter, any new
situation -- uprooted, transplanted-- will
identify with this story. But Spanky has
to manage more than that. His rock in
life, his best friend - his dad-, is shipped
to Afghanistan no sooner than the boxes
are unpacked in the new house. Spanky
wants to live up to his father's tough
expectation: "Make me proud, son." With
all the new things hitting him in school,
plus his mother's fragility, and the bully
who delights in making Spanky's life
miserable, Spanky thinks he's a failure.   
The author has woven the tale
beautifully, planting clues in the
beginning that make the ending
magical. And frankly, the whole scene of
the boys abandoned in the sink hole is a
complete white knuckler. Nice job."
       * * *
S. Silvermarie,
"In Spanky, A Soldier’s Son, author S.L.
LaNeve makes an important
contribution to fictional portrayals of
the conundrums faced by children of
military families. It is Spanky’s deeply
authentic voice that so piercingly
conveys his confusions and his fear of
failing his deployed Dad.
The details of setting are as strong and
as sharply delineated as the voice. As for
plot, LaNeve takes the reader down
refreshingly unexpected paths, while
Spanky finds his challenging way
through moving to a new town, a bully
at the new school, and his mother’s
mood swings.
Here is middle grade fiction at its best,
highly original and skillfully crafted!"
            * * *
Melissa Seligman's Daughter,
"I love it! Spanky is better than any book I am
reading right now! It feels real because I know
how Spanky feels with his father gone. Everyone
should read this book so people who are not
military know how it feels to be military. Thank
you Miss. Sue for writing this book!"
            * * *
Author Helps Military Families
through Children's Book, T Camp, Vet Central
" Author Sue LaNeve has written a children's book
to help military families teach their children, ages
seven to twelve, how to cope with some of the
unique challenges military service creates as
well as normal coming-of-age issues like bullies
and navigating friendships.  In her book, SPANKY:
A Soldier's Son, LaNeve tells a story about a boy
who sees his dad as a super hero.  She comments,
"I could think of no greater super heroes than the
Soldiers who serve our country."  Just like
Spanky, children who have military parents must
learn to deal with the painful separation of loved
ones due to combat deployments.
As child and parent read the book together, they
can work through the painful feelings of
separation as well as help children understand
some of the more complex questions of war.  
LaNeve's clever story has readers asking
themselves several questions: what do they think
about soldiering and going to war?  When is war
right and when is it wrong?  Do they think we
should be fighting a war in Afghanistan?  Why?  
Why not?  The story does not try to give any
answers to these questions.  LaNeve comments, "If
even a few children became interested in seeking
the answers, I’d be very happy."  She allows
children to come to their own conclusions by
stimulating their innate sense of curiosity and
As the daughter of a WWII Veteran, LaNeve
remembers how her father never talked to her
about his time in the military experience.   She
might never have known of some of his
devastating experiences, except that she would
occasionally overhear war stories he told his
friends.  One poignant memory was hearing him
talk of becoming "a fatalist watching planes
around him explode in midair."  As an adult, she
came to understand that he didn’t want her to
have to share his difficult memories or make them
real in her mind.
Through her book, LaNeve has given parents and
children a way to talk about these difficult issues
while still helping shield children from the harsh
realities of war.  By discussing what Spanky is
feeling, children can safely explore their own
confusing emotions."
                         * * *
Melissa Seligman,
"I consider Spanky universal for all
military tweens and teens. . . .Thank
you for giving us another level of
discussion. . .we are talking so much
about her feelings in between each
chapter. She is loving reading this with
me. I wrote a book for younger kids, and
we spend a lot of time talking about it,
but this book is  a great bridge for tween
Here is what happened last night: We
were reading the chapter where Spanky
got the email from his dad and he was
talking about the Afghani children. My
kiddo says: "Spanky makes me feel
better about being upset when Daddy
plays with those kids instead of me. It
was hard to see him (when he was in
Iraq last) kicking the soccer ball with
those kids, and know that he couldn't
kick it with me. I see why that email
upset Spanky. I'm glad he isn't perfect.
It makes me feel better about myself."
I kid you not. Her words.
Part of what has been so great about this
book is that we are reading it and
working through it together as a team.
She is only 8, and still struggling a lot
of times to understand how she is
feeling. Or if those feelings are allowed.
There hasn't been anything really out
there for military kids that revolves
around the age where they can
communicate --just maybe not in the
manner we want them to. They are
somewhat self-sufficient. Yet, still need
so much guidance. Often though, they
are more interested in a fictional
character and what he would do rather
than a mom or dad's opinion.
Spanky gives the kids a  safe way to
identify with him, and he feels real. He
is the perfect merge between Percy
Jackson and G.I. Joe.  
                * * *
Augusta Scattergood,
Author of GLORY BE
"When she was the state coordinator of
SCBWI critique groups, my friend and
former critique buddy, Sue LaNeve,
introduced me to the children's writing
community in Florida. Lucky me! A
critique group is like family. When the
new group she'd helped organize
dissolved, we all stayed connected. Even
better, Sue brought me along to her own
smaller group.
Three years ago, Sue took a hiatus to
earn her MFA in Writing for Children at
Vermont College. Sue claims those two
years of intense study were life-
changing in how she viewed herself as a
writer. But those of us who worked with
her pre-MFA always knew she was a
serious writer.
Her first middle-grade novel, SPANKY: A
Soldier's Son, is now available in Amazon
Kindle and  Nook editions.
(Ed. Note: And now print editions.)
It's a heartfelt, funny, realistic look at the
feelings of a middle-school boy whose
dad loves him and has great
expectations. When his family moves to
Florida for his firefighter dad's new job,
Spanky hardly has time to figure out
where his new school is or what's up with
the flora and fauna in this strange new
town before his dad's reserve unit is sent
to Afghanistan.
Perfect for kids who have a parent in the
military, a middle-schooler lost in the
crowd, or anybody looking for a great
story, the eBook has garnered praise from
organizations involved with military kids
and families whose children know
exactly how the main character in this
story feels. The serious themes of
bullying and family dynamics are dealt
with in a way that will make children
think hard about Spanky and his
                 * * *
              * * *
L. Hornby, St. Petersburg, FL
Spanky is the hero of this story, as he
shows loyalty, wisdom and dedication -
all traits we want every kid to identify
with in life. Being a Florida resident
since the 70's, the reality of Florida
snakes, sinkholes and woodlands were
incredibly descriptive. The respect for
our military and the detail of a military
family's journey is an important aspect
of the story from which all of us can
learn. A fantastic tale enjoyed
thoroughly from beginning to end!"
              * * *
C. McKay
"I really enjoyed reading this book. It
brought tears to my eyes as well as a
smile to my face. It's a beautifully
written story about friendship,
loneliness, fear, and the unnecessary
heavy loads we find ourselves carrying.
Any school kid (and adult) who reads
this story will be able to relate and to
find enjoyment in it.
My favorite character, in addition to
Spanky, of course, is Ms. Badu with her
leaky garbage bag. (You've got to read it
to know what I'm talking about)!"
Long and Short Book Reviews.
This is a fun story and not just for children who
have a parent in the Armed Services. Lots of the
experiences in the book, like facing the school
bully and having to make new friends after a
move, are topics most children can relate to. I
liked Spanky and I think the author did a great
job with showing us who his was through his
thoughts and actions. The only thing I felt was
that sometimes Spanky and his buddies used
dialogue that seemed more mature for their age,
and some of their actions seemed more like
teenagers. There are some touching scenes in
the story like when he’s at the airport and saying
goodbye to his dad. Also, the author created a
sense of suspense every time Spanky didn’t hear
from his father when he was actually serving in
Afghanistan. In the end, I, like Spanky, was
hoping that his dad had a safe tour of duty. In the
second part of the story, is the part where Spanky
really proves himself and makes his father proud.
I won’t give it away but it’s a little slice of
adventure within this book that I think young
readers will especially enjoy. I think this would
be a fun story for both boys and girls and the
ideal read for children whose parents are away
on active duty
Kid-Lit Reviews
“Spanky” McDougal is the new kid in
school.  His family has just moved to
Appalacheeville, Florida and David I.
Patrick Middle School.  Spanky’s called
to active duty, making Spanky the
“head of the household.”  For her part,
mom is not capable of being a parent
due to major depression aggravated by
her husband’s departure.   Dad uses his
last month at home to instruct Spanky
in his new household responsibilities,
never once considering Spanky and
his emotions and concerns.

On his first bus ride to school, Mack
Malone, the school bully, physically
attacks Spanky.  That is the first of
many.  Spanky has one friend, Dar, who
is intelligent, extremely skinny, and
another of Mack’s targets.  Mack enjoys
taunting one or both of the boys on a
daily basis.  Spanky would normally
discuss guys like Mack with dad,
together they came up with a solution.  
With dad away, Spanky is clueless,
only knowing he wants revenge.

Spanky is also finding himself freezing
whenever he has the chance to prove
himself.  He tries to figure out what to
do, but regardless of his desires and
thoughts, he continues to freeze.  This
was not just with Mack.  Spanky froze
when his teacher collapsed, requiring
CPR, which he knows.  He did fine
until it came time to administer mouth-
to-mouth.  Dar, who had been guiding
Spanky, took over until the paramedics
arrived.  The adults give Spanky his
due for his part in saving the teacher’s
life, but the kids all saw him freeze.  
Spanky believes he could have killed
his teacher.  When called to the board
in class, Spanky again freezes, unable
to write one word.  All of this freezing
up is taking its toll on Spanky and he
has no one to talk to about it all.  He
does not want to worry his dad feeling
he could disrupt his focus during a
time when he needs to be one –
hundred percent focused.  Spanky
finally finds an outlet for his pain and
frustration when a substitute teacher

Ms. Badu, “baah like a sheep and do
like how dooo you do,” is a large
colorful woman with a strange ability to
“get inside the heads” of students,
making them better.  She never is able
to stop Mack’s bullying of Spanky and
Dar, but she does find the once smart
boy buried deep inside him.  
Everything comes crashing down on
Spanky at the annual class overnight
camp-out, when he is placed in the
same tent as Mack and his harmless
side-kick Ned.


SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son focuses on two
important topics: bullying and kids
with a parent fighting in the war in the
Middle East (or any war).  I like the way
the author showed Spanky Mack’s
home life, or at least a sharp picture of
it.  Spanky witnesses Mack’s father
physically abusing his son outside of
the school entrance.  Mack bullies
other kids he feels he can control and
dispense the anger he receives daily
from his father.  This parent/child
dynamic is one classic cause of kids
who bully.  Unfortunately, knowing this
does not help Spanky stop his abuse or
his feelings of vengeance.

I like that the biggest message is to talk
about your problems, rather than
letting them get bottled up then
mashed down deep where they will
fester causing daily problems.  When a
child loses a parent to war, he may be
losing the parent he can confide in.  
Or, in Spanky’s case, the parent left at
home may become unable to parent,
leaving the child to fend for themselves
at home, often becoming the parent to
the parent.  This is what happened to
Spanky.  His mother is depressed, but
given Spanky’s descriptions of mom’s
behavior as “like a rollercoaster” and
the extreme behaviors she exhibits, I
would say she has bi-polar disorder
and in need of different medication
and cognitive therapy.

SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son does involve
intense issues—bullying, depression,
and war—but never in a way that would
terrify a reader.  Spanky finds his
missing confidence after he confides in
his teacher and friends, showing the
power of communication to help relieve
built up stress.  In the end, do Spanky,
Dar, and Mack settle their problems?  
Do they learn how to become friends?  I
wish I could say.

Oddly, SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son was not
picked up by a publisher.  It is a strong
story with likeable characters, great
conflict and resolution, flows smoothly,
tackles complex issues with grace, and
adds humor in the right places.  This is
Ms. LaNeve’s debut novel for the middle
grades.  She began writing the story for
her MFA.  Ms. LaNeve designed the
cover and shot the photographs used.

Any child with a parent or other loved
one called to active duty would do well
to read SPANKY, a Soldier’s Son.  I
think the story has enough about
bullying to make it a good choice for
anyone who is a victim of a bully or
wants to understand the phenomenon
from a kid’s point of view.  Adults will
also enjoy reading SPANKY, a Soldier’s
Son.  This well-written novel is suitable
for advanced readers age eight and
2013 Military
Writers Society
of America