Kid's Stuff -- Books About Single Fathers
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"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)

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

A father and daughter spend the day together, going to the beach, having fun, then coming home for some mac and cheese and off to sleep. 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 sternly 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; it could also be seen as a book about single parenting (since there is no mother anywhere to be seen...) (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)

"The Daddy 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)

"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)

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