Southern Scottsdale resident Marie Joy has a close relationship with the military.
Not only did her father serve in World War II, but her oldest son, Ryan Monroe, is also now an Army veteran, having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Back when he was in the military, Joy would send care packages to Monroe and 150 other men and women in his unit — packages that included teddy bears.
“I would look at the little bears and go, ‘Gosh, I wish I was this little bear, and I could put myself in a package and go see my son and his friends who I now consider all my kids,’” she recalled.
In that moment, a light bulb went off.
“I was like, ‘That would make a great story of a little bear that goes in the care package and goes on adventures with soldiers,’” she said.
Monroe began writing the story in 2004, and in January 2017, her first children’s book was published, titled “Buddy the Soldier Bear.”
And on June 1, she will take part in KJZZ Arizona StoryFest & Authors Showcase at the Mesa Convention Center, where she will read the book aloud at 1 p.m.
This will be Joy’s second time participating in the showcase.
“I love seeing [the children’s] faces when you’re reading it. They treat you like you’re a rock star or something,” she said. “They are so excited about it and it opens possibilities to them, like, ‘I could be a writer, too.’”
At the KJZZ Authors Showcase, attendees will meet writers and have the opportunity to purchase their books.
The family-friendly event also has interactive storytelling and crafts area for the kids.
Six other Scottsdale authors will take part in the event, including Phil Bruzino, Rita Goldner, Mark Johnson, Janice Lipsky, Brandon Mullan and Jody Sharpe.
In addition to supporting authors, the KJZZ StoryFest and Authors Showcase is a fundraiser for Sun Sounds of Arizona, a reading service for those who cannot read print due to a disability.
“Buddy the Soldier Bear” is the story of a lonely stuffed bear who sits on a shelf in a toy store, dreaming of being part of a family and going on adventures.
The bear is eventually purchased by a woman, who packs him in a care package and sends him to a deployed soldier. The soldier makes Buddy’s dreams come true, taking him on adventures and bringing him back home to be part of his family.
Little did Joy know, this exact scenario happened for one of the men in her son’s unit, Brandon Pollard, who received one of the bears Joy sent — and would later illustrate “Buddy the Soldier Bear.”
Joy knew Pollard attended the Portland Art Institute after serving nine years with the Army and National Guard. So, she reached out to him to gauge his interest in illustrating the book for her.
Pollard started laughing when Joy told him the story of Buddy.
He said, “Marie, you don’t realize we lived this story. You are the woman in the book who sent me a little bear. I did take it on adventures with me, and I brought it home with me.”
Pollard keeps the bear above his desk where he works.
“He did a wonderful job,” Joy said of Pollard’s work on the book. “He’s very talented, and we hope to do a second book.”
It took Joy about 10 years to write “Buddy the Soldier Bear” because she wasn’t confident in the writing or publishing process.
But once she received encouragement, feedback and edits from women in the Scottsdale Society for Women Writers group, she decided she would publish the book.
So far, Joy has sold about 1,000 copies of “Buddy the Soldier Bear,” which is currently available on Amazon for $11.99.
With Buddy’s story, Joy hopes to inspire children to dream big, as well as bring awareness to military and veteran causes.
In addition to donating 10 percent of proceeds from book sales, Joy has also donated hundreds of books and stuffed bears to several nonprofit organizations and schools in the Valley.
Organizations include Paws 4 a Cause, The Ripple Effect, the Gary Sinise Foundation, American Legion Post 44, Give a Book Get a Smile, Operation Shockwave and Blue Star Moms, of which she’s been a member since 2015.
“I just feel so passionate about helping soldiers and veterans,” Joy said. “Of course, my son made me feel that way, but my dad spent 20 years in the Air Force as well and fought in World War II, so that was kind of ingrained in me.”
The bears she donates are available for sale on the “Buddy the Soldier Bear” website for $27.99 for a 9-inch plush and $47.99 for a 16-inch plush.
A portion of proceeds from those sales are given to the aforementioned organizations.
Joy plans to begin selling a “Buddy the Soldier Bear” T-shirt, too, before Christmas. She’s currently working with Pollard on the design.
Joy has also donated bears and books to Pueblo Elementary School, the elementary school her children attended.
And this summer, she’ll speak at the school during its summer camp.
“I’ll talk to them about achieving your dreams — that even a grandma like me can achieve their dreams. It took me forever to get my book out, but it was a reality and it won some awards. I was totally honored by that. I never expected that,” Joy said.
“Buddy the Soldier Bear” was included in The Authors Show’s 2018 and 2019 “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” list.
The book also received the Illustration Award from Readers’ Favorite in 2017, and it won first place in the Arizona Authors Association Arizona Literary Contest in the children’s literature category in 2017.
For her second book, Joy is considering incorporating a service dog into the story.
“Basically, it would be Buddy is home with the soldier in the states, and the soldier’s a little sad and gets this service dog. Then, Buddy becomes friends with the dog,” Joy said. “It brings more awareness to [service dogs].”
Joy’s dream is to team up with corporate sponsors to donate even more books and bears to children with active duty parents.
“I would love to do that, but financially, I’m not able to,” she said. “I think it would be a really great thing for a young child whose parent is being deployed to have the book and the bear to hold onto.”
Joy’s day job is working at ASU as a success coach for military students.
She recently started the job in February and works at ASU Skysong in southern Scottsdale.
“It’s my dream job, as far as helping them achieve their dreams and their goal of a degree,” she said. “I always wanted to work in some capacity helping veterans or active duty, and I get to work with them both.”