Kid's Stuff -- Books About Daddies
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Aw, shucks. Books about daddies. There sure are a lot of them... Those lovable, laughing, lift-you-up-on-their-shoulders, take-you-out-for-ice-cream lugs. A little clueless sometimes? Well, yeah, maybe... But their hearts are always in the right place... at least in children's books! And here are a few daddy books that are worth checking out... We're always looking for more, if you'd care to write and let us know some of your favorites.




"With A Little Help From Daddy"
Written by Dan Andreasen
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2003)
A sweet, good-humored book about daddy-son relationships... A cheerful little elephant tells how he is "the tallest boy on my block... strongest boy on my block..." all with a little help from his ever-present dad, who cheerfully lifts him on his shoulders, helps him make his bed, etc. This is a very earnest book, verging on the saccharine, but if you are the parent of a nice, sweet little boy and want to do your best to encourage those qualities or to prolong that stage in his life, this book is probably an excellent choice. Author Dan Andreasen has worked extensively as an illustrator for other people's work; here he proves a capable, if workmanlike picturebook creator. While the text isn't terribly clever, the artwork is bold and friendly, and very easy to understand. Good for younger readers. (B)


"Up On Daddy's Shoulders"
Written by Matt Berry
Illustrated by Lucy Corvino
(Scholastic Books, 2006)

Not much to the story, but a nice "daddy book" with all the action taking place from the viewpoint of a young boy riding on Daddy's shoulders all day long, from the moment they leave the house 'til nighttime, when the boy gets plunked down into the top bunk of his bed. A very simple story that takes in nature, shooting hoops and a trip to the zoo -- definitely geared towards the littlest readers. (C+)


"My Father The Dog"
Written by Elizabeth Bluemle
Illustrated by Randy Cecil
(Candlewick, 2006)

This one was, um, kinda dumb. A little kid notes the similarities between their dad and the family dog... He scratches himself, he "fetches" the morning paper, sometimes he pees on bushes... Et cetera. The cartoonish artwork is appealing, but the text is kitschy... and very anti-dad! I'm gonna form a protest group or something. Arise, ye maligned father-figures and protest yon canine stereotypes! Arf! Arf! Arf!! (C)


"Why?"
Written by Lindsay Camp
Illustrated by Tony Ross
(G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1998)

Another great, goofy book from England, wherein a pesky little girl named Lily, who drives her dad nuts by always asking whywhywhywhywhywhy...? actually winds up saving the world. When the mighty Thargon space fleet lands in her playground, blasters at the ready, and announce that they are going to atomize our puny planet, little Lily steps up and asks the obvious question: why? And, being Lily, she asks it over and over until the aliens themselves start to question their agenda. After the Thargon's pack up and leave, Lily's dad (who had been pretty grouchy earlier) gives her a big hug and says he'll never complain again about her eternal questioning. This one's a mixed bag... On one hand, the story is funny and fantastical, and has a good punchline. The crabby daddy thing is a two-edged sword, though -- I'm in favor of books that show parents as human beings (Lily's dad gets so ground down he tries to hide his head under a sofa pillow...) but it's kind of a weird message that he's so bent out of shape by her being so curious. Yeah, this is one of the archetypal kid things that drive adults buggy, but having a book where the parent so strongly tries to squelch the whys is a little bit weird. I waited a while to spring this one on my kid, and went out of my way to say that I didn't feel the same way as Lily's dad... Hopefully having read it after all won't drive up her future my-parents-screwed-me-up therapy bill. On balance, I'd say this is a winner. (B+)


"On A Wintry Morning"
Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Steven L. Johnson
(Viking, 2000)

This book is nice in all warm and fuzzy -- maybe even a bit cloying -- a cuddly, action-packed, snowy morning father-daughter romp. They get bundled up, go sledding, catch snowflakes, climb on a horse-drawn sleigh, go into town and come back in time to take a nap... The artwork is nice, pastel pictures of father and child smiling at each other with glee and delight; the pictures are obviously photo-referenced (which I have a teensy problem with), but mostly are quite nice and make the book work. The text is a bit clumsy, though -- the meter of the poetry is a little wobbly and I found it a little hard to read. (Although my wife did not... so go figure.) Also, there's a slight continuity problem where, when they say the dad is buying the girl a puppy -- we see the little pooch on one page, but soon after the pup disappears from the book, never to be seen again... So, um, did he buy her the puppy, or didn't he? If he did, then, um... what happened to it? Can we get an editor in here, people?? Anyway, if you're looking for a happy, cute, daddy's little girl story, this one'll be on a lot of people's short list. (C+)


"Because Your Daddy Loves You"
Written by Andrew Clements
Illustrated by R. W. Alley
(Clarion, 2005)

This verges on the icky-sweet, but overall, it's a very nice "daddy book," about an engaged, active father who tilts towards emotional warmth and expressiveness. The main literary device is to contrast things the daddy could do to what he actually does -- for example, when his daughter loses her shoe, he helps her find it, instead of just saying , "aw, too bad!" or scolding her. The overall message is nice, although slightly problematic, since most of the things he doesn't do aren't actually all that bad (like saying "sweet dreams!" at bedtime, instead of "I love you") But the role-modeling of an attentive, engaged parent -- particularly a father -- is always welcome. From a little kid's point of view the artwork, showing them going to the beach and coming back, has enough drama and detail without having to worry about the thematic content... Nice book; could also be seen as a book about single parenting (since there is no mother anywhere to be seen...) (B)


"Won't Papa Be Surprised"
Written by Terri Cohlene
Illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles
(Harper Collins, 2003)

Naturally, I'm a sucker for sentimental, heart-touching daddy-daughter books, but this one didn't do much for me... A little girl waits all day long to spring her big Father's Day present on Daddy... Meanwhile, they play and have tea and do chores together, then finally she gives him his gift. It's nice that it turns out to be something relatively "little" -- a handmade badge that reads "MY PAPA" -- but the narrative leading up to the gift-giving is flat and uninvolving. Plus, I really didn't care much for the artwork, which looked like it was clumsily copied from photographic models. Maybe I'm too crabby, but overall, I can think of lots of other books to spent our time on. (C-)


"Wake Up, Dad!"
Written by Sally Grimes
Illustrated by Siobhan Dodds
(Doubleday, 1988)

This is a hilarious book... written more for parents, perhaps, than for kids... But a child with the right sense of humor will enjoy is as well... Here's the story: a little girl bounds into her parent's bedroom at 6:30am and chatters away, trying to wake her oh-so-tired dad up. She opens the curtains, jumps on the bed, lets the cat in, and wonders aloud if that big spider on the floor is going to make a nest in Daddy's shoes... The details -- particularly the pained looks on the beleagured parents -- are quite amusing, and the infectious, bubbly personality of the irrepresible little girl comes through loud and clear. You can't help loving her, even if you feel sorry for the sleepy parents, too... This book rings true and never hits a false note. (B+)


"The Daddy Mountain"
Written by Jules Feiffer
Illustrated by Jules Feiffer
(Hyperion, 2004)

A little girl steels herself for action, clambering up the imposing edifice that is her father... Climbing first onto his feet, then up his leg, grabbing onto a shirt, then up and over the shoulders and finally (--ouch!!--) grabbing his ears, and triumphantly hauling herself atop his head... Although this lacks the fluid narrative ease and nuanced characterization of some of Feiffer's other work (and, indeed, reads like a how-to manual for a page or two...), it's still a nice, fun book, promoting healthy father-daughter relations, and encouraging rambunctiousness and athleticism in young girls. I thought the prose was a bit flat, but my daughter liked the book -- especially the double-page fold-out -- and would ask for it to be read over once or twice. It's no Bark, George, but it'll do for an afternoon or two. (B-)


"Central Park Serenade"
Written by Laura Godwin
Illustrated by Barry Root
(Joanna Cotler, 2002)

A beautiful tone poem showing a child's day in Central Park. When I first picked this up, I thought, Oh, the appeal will probably be too limited: if you don't live in New York City, why would you care? But the universality of the Central Park experience, along with the lovely, measured craftsmanship, make this a wonderful read. The text and artwork intertwine and complement each other, although the pictures provide a solid second layer of the story... For a day-in-the-park book, this one's hard to beat. Also works nicely as a "daddy book," since it's Pop who takes the boys to sail their boats on a languid summer day. (A)


"What Happens On Wednesdays"
Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo
(Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007)

An immensely charming book about everyday routines, especially nice for single children and families that live in urban environs... A young girl walks us through her day, starting with a pre-dawn wake-up and storytime with Mom, then a to-school walk with Dad that takes us on a tour of her New York neighborhood. After lunch, Mom picks her up, they go home, have a nap, then go out for a dip at the pool and trip to the library, then back again for dinner, bath and bedtime. Sounds simple, but the richness of detail (both in the text and the marvelous drawings) makes this one a real winner. The young urban family feels familiar and real -- fans of Mo Willems Knuffle Bunny will recognize the Brooklyn landscape, and expatriate New Yorkers will yearn for a bite of their bagels. This book perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a preschool-kindergarten student's life, and will ring a bell for many readers, big and small. Recommended! (A)


"Do Your ABC's, Little Brown Bear"
Written by Jonathan London
Illustrated by Margie Moore
(Dutton, 2005)
For the most part this is a fun, simple ABC primer, as well as a nice father-son book... An anthropomorphized litte bear and his cheerful, indulgent dad go for a walk in the countryside, with the boy naming things that start with the various letters of the alphabet: apple, ball, etc. The tone of the book is pleasant and warm right up until the end, when the boy is too amped up to go to bed, and the dad brusquely mutters that Z is for "zip it!", even though there's a perfectly good zebra laying around. This gruff, snappish moment stands in unpleasant contrast to the playful tone of the rest of the story... I'm sure it's just a "guy thing," but I found myself having to read around it, which is always awkward and kind of a drag. I'd still recommend the book, though -- mostly it's quite nice. (B-)

"Emily And Her Daddy"
Written by Claire Masurel
Illustrated by Susan Calitri
(Penguin/Puffin, 2003)

(-)


"Guess How Much I Love You"
Written by Sam McBratney
Illustrated by Anita Jeram
(Candlewick, 1995)

A classic, or sorts, of modern vintage. A young little bunny tries to tell his dad how much he loves him, by stretching his arms ("this much!") or jumping up high, etc. The father responds by one-upping the child each time (stretching farther, jumping higher, etc.). The message is supposed to be that a parent's love is so great that your heart will just burst -- there's nothing that the daddy won't do to prove his love -- and the coda at the end, when the boy is asleep and the dad looks on him tenderly is nice... Still, it's hard not to read this story and feel a little sorry for the boy, whose simple proclamations of love are met with such stifling competitiveness. Maybe it's just a guy thing, I dunno. The overt interpretation of the boy's ever more energetic attempts to compete with the bigger, more capable father is that he enjoys the playfulness and teasing quality of the game. It's also possible, however, to see a sadder, darker side to it, that no matter how hard he tries, his dad will always top him. In the end, the boy falls asleep, with the dad finally acknowledging that all the way to the moon is "very far indeed," and he lets the boy "win" before he goes to sleep. The sentiments are sweet, but there's still something about the emotional dynamic that rubs me the wrong way. (C)


"One Morning In Maine"
Written by Robert McCloskey
Illustrated by Robert McCloskey
(Viking, 1952)

A long and involved story -- probably best for "older" kids, five or older (?) -- about a girl named Sal who lives with her parents and little sister out in a seaside cabin in rural Maine. On a day when she and her father are going into town to run errands, Sal loses the first of her baby teeth, and chatters happily about losing teeth, making wishes and becoming "a big girl." The literal-minded text is matched by McCloskey's detail-rich artwork, which evokes both the spendor of the natural world and the nuts-and-bolts complexities of the modern, industrial world. There's a lot to look at while all the words go by, especially when they go into town and visit the local mechanic, and then head over to the general store. The rustic, Eisenhower-era world that this book is set in is long gone, but Sal's childlike innocence and sense of adventure still rings true. (B+)


"Farm Morning"
Written by David McPhail
Drawn by David McPhail
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

Beautiful artwork, but choppy writing. The story is simple: a little girl helps her daddy wake up and feed all the animals on the farm, and then once all the chores are done, they settle down for breakfast themselves. I'm a big fan of McPhail's elegant, classic art style, and his pictures of the barnyard activities are typically marvellous. Unfortunately, the narrative voice, of the sleepy, half-grumpy farmer dad, who frequently makes personal asides and jokes, is a little offputting and may leave some readers left out, like we're listening to a bunch of inside jokes. This is a book that can be fun to read, if you just describe what's happening on the page, or make up a text of your own. (C+)


"Emma's Pet"
Written by David McPhail
Drawn by David McPhail
(Dutton, 1985)

This one's super-cute and a perennial favorite among parents and librarians... A little girl announces that she wants a big, warm, cuddly new pet, but has trouble finding one she likes. Finally, she comes home and sees one that looks just right: her dad. Father's Day present, anyone? Yeah, this one is a little Hallmark card-ish, but it's still enjoyable. As always, McPhail's art is a delight, and indeed, this is one of his strongest works, in terms of its graphic qualities. (B+)


"My Daddy Is A Giant"
Written by Carl Norac
Illustrated by Ingrid Godon
(Clarion, 2004)

A daddy book with very little substance... A small child (probably a boy, though the text isn't specific...) is agog of his daddy -- how tall and strong he is. Daddy is as tall as the clouds, makes the ground shake, has to crouch behind mountains to play hide-and-seek, etc. It's an okay book, I suppose, though I felt nonplussed after finishing it, like there just wasn't a lot of "there" there. One part I did not like was when the child says, "When we play soccer, my daddy always wins." Foo. What kind of a dad never let's his kid win? Big meanie. Anyway, I thought this book was too simple, and also wasn't that into the theme... Other folks might have a totally different response. My kid didn't have much of a reaction at all -- a null set. (By the way, there's a companion book, My Mommy Is Magic, which is much better.) (C)


"The Daddy Book"
"The Mommy Book"
Written by Todd Parr
Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Megan Tingley Books, 2002)

These happy, friendly, brightly colored, cartoonish books sing the praise of playful, goofy parents, with equal time given to each gender. The simplicity and directness of the artwork is similar in its impact to the "Maisy" books, as is the plain, declarative writing. Parr's work hints at a hipper world view, however, with dads that do housework and moms who ride rad-looking motorcycles. The Daddy Book is probably the most significant of the two, since it depicts fathers engaged in what are (sadly) still considered unmasculine activities, such as vacuuming and baking cookies. The Mommy Book scrupulously offers an equal-time version of almost exactly the same activities, although dressing up and shopping are two mommy-only events not seen in the other book. There is a teensy, almost imperceptible bit of bias in favor of dad's, notably when a mom is seen singing and the kids frown and wince, as opposed to the big grins seen in The Daddy Book. This is really nitpicking, though: this series is patently and explicitly "politically correct" (or "progressive," if you prefer), and quite nice for trying to introduce not only so many social roles, but also a wide range of activities for kids (and parents) to consider. Most important, they are cheerful and fun to read. I'd recommend them for kids under one year old -- once they can fully see color, they'll love this bold, vibrant artwork. (Parr has a bunch of other books, which I haven't checked out. Some, like The Peace Book, seem a little too ooey-gooey for me...) (B)


"Whistling"
Written by Elizabeth Partridge
Illustrated by Anna Grossnickle Hines
(Greenwillow, 2003)

Is it a "daddy book" masquerading as a nature book, or vice versa? Either way, this is sure to strike a chord among the sappy-minded among us (I liked it, my kid did not...) A boy and his father get up early while on a camping trip and greet the rising sun as the father teaches his son how to whistle. Not sure what the connection is supposed to be between whistling and dawn, but this is still evocative as all hell. Besides -- it's a daddy book! How can you not love a daddy book? The artwork is unusual: all the pictures are quilted collages, constructed using swatches of cloth that change in color as the sunrise gets nearer... very creative and folk-arty. (B-)


"Didi And Daddy On The Promenade"
Written by Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay
(Clarion, 2001)

A delightful father-daughter bonding book, all about a morning spent strolling on Brooklyn, New York's riverside Promenade. Didi and her dad run from adventure to adventure, talking all the while in their private language, meeting animals, watching musicians, playing with friends. It's an utterly joyful book, made all the more marvelous by Marie-Louise Gay's lively illustrations. I've read a lot of "daddy" books, and it's a real treat to find one that doesn't talk about golf, or trucks, or sports, or mowing the lawn. This is probably the closest any picturebook has come to capturing my own caretaker-friendship with my kid... Nice story about New York, too. Definitely recommended! (Postscript: yeah, that is the World Trade Center there in the background. Creepy, huh? On the other hand, you can also see Staten Island and the Statue Of Liberty, so I guess it kind of balances out.) (A)


"My Daddy And Me"
Written by Jerry Spinelli
Illustrated by Seymour Chwast
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)

Yay, daddies. With simple sentences, and equally simple, blocky paintings of a father-son doggy duo, this book celebrates dads and their goofy, fun-loving ways. I wasn't wowed by this one, but it's nice enough. A couple of the later pages are hard to track ("When we go for a walk, we don't just walk -- we do fancy dance steps -- you'd think my daddy had twenty kids" Huh? I don't get it... ) but for the most part , it's pretty straightforward and sweet. It's minorly disappointing that, after keeping it gender-neutral for most of the book there's one page, and only one, where the child is identified as a boy... Otherwise, this could have been an interesting against-the-grain, could-be-a-girl-hanging-with-dad book... Also, since the mother is never mentioned or seen, this could also be used as a single-parent or divorced-parent dad book. Potentially, it fits a lot of different needs...
(B-)



"Big Bear And Little Bear" -- see author Martin Waddell


"Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Tale"
Written by Mo Willems
Illustrated by Mo Willems
(Hyperion, 2004)

We LOVE this book!! This is a wonderful story that explores the difficulties of communication with a pre-verbal child. A little girl named Trixie starts to cry when she loses her stuffed animal and grows frustrated when she can't explain to her father what has happened. Her father, who hadn't noticed that the bunny was missing, tries to calm her down by talking about other things, which frustrates the little girl even more. The psychology of the book is very realistic and simple: this is exactly the kind of thing that happens to small children before they can talk, and the book written as much for the parents as it is for the kids. (My child points and smiles with satisfaction at the panel where the father realizes the mistake he's made, and Trixie has an I-told-you-so look on her face. For my part, I try not to lose things... ever! :-) It's also nice that the book is set in an urban environment (Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY)... A book that shows a walk to the laundromat may be a welcome change of pace for parents who live in cities and wonder when the heck they are ever going to get the chance to see a bunch of barnyard animals... In short, the appeal of this book is in understanding and validating the experience of children at a time in their lives when their voices are hard to hear. Highly recommended. (A++)




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