Alumna Athens Pellegrino helping military families through children’s book series

Two books in the series have been published in the last seven months, each featuring a different challenge families face.

Two books in the series have been published in the last seven months, each featuring a different challenge families face.

Civilian budget analyst for the Air Force by day and children’s book author by night, TROY alum Athens Pellegrino released this week book two in “The Military Child Chronicles” series, a book line dedicated to helping military children adjust to the ever-changing lives of the military family. The online release marked her second published book in seven months.

Despite being a military spouse of 12 years and undergoing multiple moves and deployments, Pellegrino said it wasn’t until she had children that she realized just how many obstacles military families face. Their latest move to Florida, for example, occurred during the height of the COVID pandemic with a 2-year-old and a seven-day-old newborn.

“It just dawned on me how often military children have to move, how they have to completely start over, make new friends and get used to the new area, and then next thing you know, it’s time to move again,” she said. “I wanted to create a resource that families would be able to use as a tool to help during these difficult situations and to encourage them to communicate with one another. Instead of always dreading having to relocate, I want families to almost look forward to it and see the good of the situation.”

In the beginning, Pellegrino’s “rough drafts” were meant to stay within their household; however, after receiving encouragement from family and friends, she felt compelled to take it further.

“They were like, ‘This really is a tool that would be able to help a lot of other families,’” she said. “At that point, I saw it as almost like a duty to at least attempt to get this book out there, so I started researching how to start putting a book together, illustrations, editing, publishing, just everything.”

With a full-time job and two young children to help care for, most of Pellegrino’s work and research came at night after tending to her youngest through bouts of colic. Instead of faltering under the stress of the situation, she said was grateful to have a creative outlet to relieve the tension.

The second book in "The Military Child Chronicles" features Pellegrino's daughter and a blizzard that keeps her grandparents away for Christmas. In the book, Pellegrino offers ways to still make the holidays special, even when family is far away.
The second book in “The Military Child Chronicles” features Pellegrino’s daughter and a blizzard that keeps her grandparents away for Christmas. In the book, Pellegrino offers ways to still make the holidays special, even when family is far away.

“It helped out tremendously because all day at work, I’m interpreting data and statistics and analyzing money, so just to have a creative outlet where I can cut back and relax, have some fun and something to involve my family in was therapeutic for me,” she said.

The first book in the Chronicles, “Mission: My First PCS,” was inspired by their many moves and features Pellegrino’s oldest, Atticus, learning that his family will be relocating over the summer and offers tips and activities to help military families during their change of station. The second book, “Mission: Mistletoe,” focuses on their youngest, Callista, and how a blizzard prevents her grandparents from visiting. Instead of focusing on the loss, Pellegrino highlights ways to create excitement around the holidays, like a cookie exchange with neighbors, decorating the house and having Christmas movie nights. In real life, the visit was put on hold because of COVID and travel restrictions.

“I really hone-in on how the holidays can be hard because we’re graphically distanced from our loved ones, but how, internally, we have our own military community and family and that you can still have fun during the holidays, even though they might not be celebrated the traditional way,” she said. “We’re just trying to create a positive experience for the kids, and for the adults, too.”

Though there’s no set plan for the number of books she plans to write, Pellegrino said she wants to at least follow her children through their childhood as new situations and challenges arise.

“There’s issues out there that military families face that I’m still unaware of because my kids are so young, or if someone approaches me and says that their kids are having an issue, just put it out there so that families don’t feel like they’re the only ones going through things,” she said. “I want to keep going for as long as I can. I know that sounds so logical to tell someone you’re not the only one going through it, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s so hard to think that other people are dealing with it, too, because it just feels so big.”

Now three years old, Atticus has settled into a routine at their new duty station, making friends in pre-school, swimming and on his soccer team and has become accustomed to seeing his favorite people on a regular basis. Pellegrino is already thinking of how the next move is going to affect him and how she and her husband, with the help of her books, can help prepare him for the eventual change.

“Already being aware that this is going to be a future problem, I’m glad that I’ve created the book already and have activities to do when it’s time for us to move to help get him excited,” she said. “There are some things that we just do on autopilot because we have to, so it’s times like this I reflect on everything and know that there’s people who are struggling, even if they don’t talk about it. Or a little kid who might not know how to communicate that they’re having issues, but we need to be aware of that so we can identify it, help them overcome and help find solutions before it becomes a problem.”

“Mission: My First PCS” is available at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Barnes & Noble, Water Stones and Goodreads, and “Mission: Mistletoe” is available online.

The Life of the Military Spouse

A native of Ocean City, New Jersey, Pellegrino and her husband, USAF Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Pellegrino, met while in college at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Since their marriage in 2009, the pair have lived in Florida, New Mexico, Alabama and England and are potentially facing another overseas move.

During one of their stints in Florida, the duo again attended college together, this time through TROY Online’s Master of Public Administration program. Despite already being enrolled at the University of West Florida to pursue a Masters of Business Administration, she decided to switch to TROY after realizing it would be a better fit for their lifestyle if she had a government job.

“TROY was recommended to me through co-workers, and the online option appealed to us,” she said. “It was a timely decision because we moved to England shortly after and were there for three years.”

Pictured is a family photo of Athens, her husband, Chris, and their two children: Atticus and Callista
Athens and her husband, Lt. Col. Christopher Pellegrino, have been married since 2009. Atticus is now 3, and Callista is now 18 months.

While her current focus is on military children, Pellegrino said there’s a possibility she’ll eventually expand to include works about the issues military spouses face: basically becoming a single parent during deployments, frequent career changes that often lead to withdrawing from the workforce and long separations from friends and family.

“We have to really pick and choose what we travel for or if someone’s coming to visit us, and there’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with trying to have a career, too. That’s why a lot of spouses are like, ‘Forget this, it’s not worth it for me,'” she said. “I know so many spouses who have degrees and advanced degrees but lack in work experience because every time their spouse deploys, next thing you know they’re single parenting and don’t have the time or can’t figure out childcare because you don’t have family nearby to rely on.”

Pellegrino was recently asked to collaborate on a book with a group of non-military affiliated authors, and in January she’ll begin writing a chapter on resiliency that talks about who she is, her values and how she gets through hard times. Then, it’s right back to her main focus: helping military children.

“Eventually I would like to segue into an adult audience, but right now I just want to focus on kids, especially as my kids are growing up,” she said.

For updates on future book releases, follow “The Military Child Chronicles” on Facebook.