Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dads on the Page

Children's books are filled with mothers: Moms putting kids to bed, moms taking kids to school, moms comforting kids after various physical and psychic injuries, invisible scolding moms (a la In The Night Kitchen). But where are the dads?

Well, they're out there, but you do have to look for them. Herewith, a small sample of my favorite fictional dads, and the books in which they appear:

Enemy Pie, by Derek Munson. The dad in this book is wise, understands how to turn an enemy into a friend, and makes great pie. What more could you ask for?

Something Good
, by Robert Munsch. Featuring a dad who cares about good nutrition, but cares more about his kids. Even when one of them ends up stuck on the doll shelf at the supermarket with a sticker on her nose that says $29.99.

Ten Minutes Till Bedtime
by Peggy Rathmann. Well, it's true that the dad in this book is pretty clueless: he doesn't even notice that dozens of hamsters are gallivanting through his home on the "Ten Minute Bedtime Tour." but his goodnight tuck-in once the hamsters are all dispatched reveals the depth of his feelings for his kid.

Daddy is a Doodlebug
, by Bruce Degen. "Daddy is a doodlebug/and I'm a doodlebug too./We doodle things together/that doodlebugs like to do." The father and son in this book are truly doodlebugs--many-armed, tentacled creatures who also like to draw together. This warm ode to a parent and child who share a talent would make a great bedtime story.

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. I used to think this quiet picture book wasn't dramatic enough to hold a kindergarten story-time audience; I was so, so wrong. Kids are entranced by the father and daughter's nighttime owling adventure. John Schoenherr's luminous Caldecott-winning illustrations convey suspense and wonderment.

The Naked Mole-Rat Letters
, by Mary Amato. This quietly smart novel didn't make nearly the splash it should have. It's about a girl whose widowed father has (gasp!) found a GIRLFRIEND. His daughter is not pleased, and starts e-mailing said girlfriend, who happens to work at the zoo, with a pile of (mostly-fabricated) reasons that her dad is really not such good boyfriend material. Both the girlfriend and the father respond admirably. The parallels drawn between human and naked-mole-rat territorial behaviors are kind of cool, too.

Lord of the Nutcracker Men
, by Iain Lawrence. The father in this book is physically absent, fighting in World War I. But his son Johnny treasures his letters, and the toy soldiers he carves while sitting in the trenches. Johnny comes to believe that his games with the toy soldiers are affecting his father's fate, lending the book a haunting cast.

The Saturdays (et al), by Elizabeth Enright. I danced a little jig when this book came back into print. The Melendy kids' dad always seemed to have that perfect combination of concern and laid-back-ness: he let his kids run around New York City on their Saturday Adventure Club allowance-sponsored jaunts, but when it came to a crisis he could always be counted on.

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish
, by Neil Gaiman. Truth be told, the dad in this book is far from exemplary. In fact, all he does throughout the entire narrative is read his newspaper, completely oblivious to the fact that he's being trundled around, traded hither and yon, and judged bloody useless by one kid after another, until the narrator, who perpetrated the original and eponymous trade, reluctantly tracks him down and retrieves him. Still, this is a terrific book, deadpan and funny and slightly creepy. For the dad with a strong self-image and a good sense of humor.


Jen Robinson said...

I adore Mr. Melendy, too.

Genevieve said...

Great list - thank you!

liz said...

You know I'm right there on the Melendy bandwagon.

What about The Divorce Express?

Vardibidian said...

I know it's all sort of implied, but the teller of the Just So Stories is one of my favorite Dads in kidlit. For little ones, the dad in Pete’s a Pizza! has got to be one of the best. I'm awfully fond of Little Bobo, which has an absolutely terrific uncle, but a pretty good Dad. McBroom, of McBroom's Ghost, is a good Dad, too. I don't know if the Dad in Abiyoyo counts as a good Dad, exactly, but he's pretty cool. I liked Pod Clock from The Borrowers, too.
And for one last choice, the avocado-crazy dad in The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death.


Charlotte said...

A recent fictional father I encountered who I liked very much (despite the fact that he was dead during (and presumably after) the events described in the book was Emma Jean's father in Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.

And of course there's Laura Ingills' Pa.

susan said...

It's rabbits, but there's the dad in Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McCartney (and then there's the whatever-sort-of-relationship between Bartholomew and George in Virginia Miller's books)