a list of…five books with great dads…Happy Father’s Day!

With Father’s Day in mind, I’ve been reading lots and lots of picture books featuring dads.  Honestly, they are much harder to find than picture books starring moms.  Much harder.  And for some reason they tend to be rhyming books — sometimes clever, sometimes inane — rather than stories with a good plot and Dad playing a key role.  Or, Dad is the frazzled, dim-witted fellow who can’t boil an egg to save his life.  Well.  Here are five books that hit the mark — well written, well-illustrated, interesting story lines, intelligent, dependable dads. 

Owl Moon, story by Jane Yolen, illustrations by John Schoenherr

It is late at night; winter time.  There is a bright moon; no wind.  Everything is quiet as a dream, when Pa takes his daughter out owling.  They trudge silently through the crisp snow, careful to remember that “if you go owling you have to be quiet.”  Pa calls the owl several times, holding up his hands and making the call of a Great Horned Owl, before they are finally rewarded with an answering call, and a gorgeous, magnificent owl landing near them, staring at them, and then flying back, soundlessly, into the forest.  Breathtaking. 

The prose in this story is elegant.  The stillness and anticipation are almost tangible as we hope along with this twosome for an owl to appear.  The  watercolor illustrations won the Caldecott Medal in 1987.  They are absolutely beautiful.  The magic of owling is obviously dear to both author and illustrator.  Yolen’s husband took their children out owling on winter nights, inspiring the story, and Schoenherr actually featured his own wooded farm  in these paintings, where he went walking at nighttime with his children, searching for owls. 

Every Friday, written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

Friday is this boy’s favorite day.  Why?  Because every Friday he and his dad head out early, walking in a friendly, leisurely way along sidewalks, past interesting places and people and windows in the big city, until they arrive at their favorite diner, where Rosa the waitress fills their usual order of pancakes.  They have a lovely breakfast and chat, just the two of them, dad and son.  And then they walk back home.  Every Friday. 

In an Author’s Note, Dan Yaccarino tells us that since his own son turned three, a Friday outing to the corner diner for breakfast has been their happy tradition.  He writes in hope of inspiring other dads to develop their own delightful, simple traditions with their kids.  Funky illustrations and minimal text give a warm, upbeat feel to this winning story.

Crow Call, story by Lois Lowry, illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline

Team up a fabulous writer, a masterful artist, and a powerful story from the author’s personal experience, and you have got yourself the ingredients for a great book.

Lizzie’s dad has just returned from his time in the service during World War II.  He has been away so long, that Lizzie feels she scarcely knows him.  She feels shy around him.  She isn’t used to calling anyone Daddy.  Today, though, the two of them are headed out to go crow hunting.  Lizzie wears a much-too-large bright plaid hunting shirt that Dad agreed to buy the other day when he saw how it caught her eye, and she eats cherry pie for breakfast after he discovers that it is her favorite thing to eat in the whole world.  But the barriers really crumble as the two  meander through the woods, chatting about fears, making up ridiculous animal calls, watching mobs of crows come in answer to the crow call, choosing not to shoot any of them after all.   This dad is so kind, so respectful of his little girl, so honest, we can’t help but feel the safety and warmth that Lizzie experiences as she begins to know and trust him again.

This is a lovely story with a clearly authentic voice.  I should think it addresses a common concern for many children who are separated from a parent for long periods of time.  The exceptional illustrations clearly evoke Andrew Wyeth, to whom Ibatoulline dedicates his work. Highly recommended.

What Dad’s Can’t Do, story by Douglas Wood, pictures by Doug Cushman

“There are lots of things that regular people can do but dad’s can’t,” this book tells us.  It then proceeds to list off quite a number of them.  For example, they can’t pitch a baseball very hard or hit one very far.  They aren’t good at sleeping late  or shaving by themselves.  When they go fishing, they really need extra practice baiting the hook.  All of this is delivered from the perspective of a little guy who eagerly gives his Dad batting practice, squirts the shaving cream on for him, lets him take total care of the worms and bobbers, gives Dad the kisses he requires at bedtime, and so on.

Brave, bright, spirited pictures capture the joy of this tongue-in-cheek list, which actually is a very sweet run-down of all the ways dads play with, teach, affirm, nurture, and love their kids in unique fatherly-fashion.  The story ends by telling us that although it is a wonder dads make it through life at all, considering all the things they can’t do, dads just don’t give up.  “No matter how tired a dad gets, or how hard life gets, a dad never quits.”  Now that’s a good dad.  In fact, this book would make a great gift for a good dad.

My Father’s Boat, story by Sherry Garland, illustrations by Ted Rand

This is the story of a Vietnamese immigrant who is a shrimper, and his young son, who is going out in his boat with him, learning the trade.  The two sit side by side to pilot the boat while it is still dark and quiet, and the air is thick with fog and mist.  As the work begins, the boy notices his father’s hands, “strong and hard from years of hauling nets.  His face is brown and cracked from squinting out the rays of ten thousand suns rising and sinking over the ocean.”  While they eat cold rice and hot tea for lunch, the father sings Vietnamese songs his own fisherman father taught him, and tells his son about the beautiful fields of waving green rice in his homeland.  He talks about Grandfather, who did not leave when the war broke out and how proud he would be of his grandson.   They think about Grandfather, and together they miss having him with them.

This is a story about multiple generations loving one another, working together, passing on the history and traditions of the family.  Despite the immense difficulties of war and separation and grueling work, there is a strength and love and loyalty that knits these generations of men, fathers and sons, together.  There are many authentic details in this story as well as in the beautiful, vivid artwork.  Both author and artist went to the Gulf Coast to see and experience the life of Vietnamese-American shrimpers in order to create the book.  It is especially timely now, with the BP oil catastrophe which is threatening the livelihood of these fisherman.