Candlewick is celebrating Father’s Day this year with a campaign centered on Sam McBratney’s Guess How Much I Love You, illustrated by Anita Jeram, which in turn is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015. The publisher has partnered with United Through Reading, a longstanding nonprofit organization with a worthy mission: to unite military families separated by distance by facilitating the bonding experience of reading aloud together. UTR offers service members the opportunity to be video-recorded reading books, to be viewed by their families at home, at more than 200 recording stations across the world – on ships, in tents in Afghanistan, on military bases, and at USO centers.

Guess How Much I Love You’s message of parent-child love has resonated with families worldwide over the past quarter-century. The picture book, now available in a 20th-anniversary edition, has sold 28 million copies and has been published in 53 languages. Because the book features a father-son duo, Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare, the story is especially effective for Father’s Day sharing – even across many miles.

To help spread word of UTR’s ongoing initiatives and the book’s comforting message, Candlewick and UTR have created a video clip featuring several military personnel reading Guess How Much I Love You to their children or grandchildren. Beginning on June 15, the video will be shared on Candlewick’s and UTR’s social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

McBratney’s story has long been a staple of UTR’s recording sessions, said Sally Ann Zoll, CEO of the organization. “Since it was published, we have been providing the book to service members near and far to record for their loved ones at home. The story is simple, but the message is a very special one, reassuring little ones that a father’s love is immeasurable. For service members who are away from home, the story serves as a reminder that their love can close the distance.”

Casting a Wide Net of Support

Since UTR’s inception, nearly two million military parents, spouses, and children have taken part in its video-recording program, and the results, compiled by the organization, underscore its value: 81% of participants reported a decrease in their children’s anxiety about their parent’s deployment, 78% report increases in their child’s interest in reading and books, and 83% of the recordings are watched nearly every day or more frequently.

UTR shared with PW two personal testaments from stateside spouses of Navy servicemen deployed overseas who have, along with their children, been on the receiving end of UTR’s video recordings. “The one thing that my kids wanted more than anything – time with their daddy – I could not give them, but United Through Reading did,” said Veronica Boblett, whose husband recorded Guess How Much I Love You for his children. “The book is one of our favorites, and this is truly an amazing gift that has been given to our family.”

Emma Kolar, whose husband left on a nine-month deployment with the USS George H.W. Bush when their daughter was only five weeks old, emphasized the important role his UTR recordings played in connecting him to the infant. “It was a tough time for us all,” she recalled. “We were understandably worried that she might not remember him by the time he got backand we really believe that the videos he recorded with United Through Reading helped her to bond with her daddy.”

Laura Rivas, Candlewick’s director of publicity, brands, and consumer outreach, noted that the partnership with UTR came about through discussions, with colleagues at the publisher’s London and Australian sister houses, about ways to commemorate the picture book’s 20-year milestone. “We had heard that Guess How Much I Love You has helped military families celebrate Father’s Day for many years,” she said. “And we thought that a partnership with United Through Reading for Guess How Much I Love You, especially at this time of year, is a perfect match-up, and one that we hope continues beyond 2015.”

McBratney, chimed in from his home in Northern Ireland, recalling a book event years ago, when a boy asked him why he writes books. “What a question!” said the author, who called the query “so basic and obvious, yet disconcerting, because I didn’t have a reply.”

Now he does, McBratney was pleased to report: “I’ve finally come up with an answer. I write books because I want my words to be read. Initiatives like United Through Reading have brought this home to me. Any writer would surely find it a satisfying thing to imagine his words being read by fathers and heard by children across the distance that separates them. Familiar story, beloved voice. Is there a better combination?”