by Meredith Flory

 

As we approach Father’s Day, I wanted to share some stories that make good gifts for a parent, or provide good summer reading for families. A beautifully illustrated picture book can be a sweet gift for an adult, particularly one that reminds you of that person in some way, and that they can read to their children, grandchildren, or students.  However, this Father’s Day book list has a slight twist. It’s important to remember that while Mother’s and Father’s Days are wonderful holidays for families to thank parents for the work they do, for some families they may not feel included in traditional celebrations, or it may even be a day of sadness.  For families that have lost a parent or their parent is away for some reason, they may be reminded of this loss as those around them celebrate.  For single parents, LGBT parents, or parents and caregivers in unique circumstances such as fostering, they may be charting their own path to celebrating or feel forgotten in the flurry of traditional gifts, cards, and sentiments.  So this book list approaches Father’s Day by looking at stories that celebrate families and the love between a parent and child in a variety of ways.  Representation in stories can be powerful for children and parent alike, encouraging a sense of belonging, and a way to process complicated emotions through the joy of storytelling.

Books Celebrating All Types of Families

The Great Big Book of Families by May Hoffman and illustrated by Ros Asquith, celebrates through engaging text and cartoon drawings the beauty of how any two or more people can be a family.  Some elements are directly pointed to in the text, such as single parents, different types of housing, and whether or not a family has pets, while other aspects of diversity are subtlety woven through the art with people of different ethnicities, disabilities, and same sex parents.  The text encourages readers to find things that remind them of their own family throughout the book, making it a book meant to be discussed in addition to being read.

In Stella Brings the Family, author Miriam B. Schiffer tells the story of Stella, who does not know what to do when her class has a Mother’s Day event because she has two fathers.  The story adorably incorporates the support of her classmates as they help her find a solution, and we see their own beautifully diverse families on the day of the event.

Rose Lewis shares her story of adoption as a single woman in the sweet picture book I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, demonstrating how parental love and the journey to become a parent may come in different forms for different families.

The short, sweet picture book Dad and Pop, by Kelly Bennet and illustrated by Paul Meisel shares a child’s love for both her father and step-father, showing how she spends time with both. Even though they are very different people, she knows they both love her very much.  This would be a sweet book to read to a child to encourage them to make their own card, drawing, or poem for each parent in their life.

For Families Experiencing Trauma

Jacqueline Woodson’s books always encourage me to think of experiences outside of my own, and her picture book Visiting Day, with illustrations by James E. Ransome, poignantly captures the experience of a child going to visit her father in prison.  Where her father is does not take center stage, but rather the love each family member has for each other is present in the emotional text and gorgeous illustrations.  Both author and artist write notes explaining how personal experiences impacted the telling of this story, and it would be a beautiful gift for a family experiencing, or that has experienced this kind of separation.

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty movingly portrays the loss of a young black boy’s father and that boy’s journey to reclaim some of the joy that he experienced during a morning ritual the two had.  The author chooses not to tell us why the father is no longer there, and in an author’s note Beaty acknowledges watching his students experience loss through incarceration, divorce, and death.  This is a beautifully illustrated story that might be appreciated by someone you know who is missing their father deeply this Father’s Day.

In A Chair for My Mother (1982) by Vera B. Williams, brightly colored pictures tells the story of a daughter, mother, and grandmother, saving money to buy a new comfy chair after a house fire.  The single mother’s workplace, home, and diverse urban neighborhood celebrate community and kindness, and would be a perfect book to pair with a child’s homemade gift, or token they purchased themselves as a gift for a working parent. 

Unique Celebrations of Fatherhood

Jane Yolen’s All Those Secrets of the World gently tells the story of a family whose father has gone off to war, and while told from the child’s perspective, as a military spouse I appreciated the way the story allows the mother to be in her grief as a natural part of deployments.  The illustrations are nostalgic, but would make a beautiful addition for the modern military family’s bookshelf as well.

The Night Worker by Kate Banks tells the story of a father who works the night shift at a major construction site as an engineer through the eyes of his son.  For men who work non-traditional or long hours, this would be a wonderful read with their child, and shows a child’s appreciation and wonder at the ways parents provide for their families and contribute to communities.

For Dads that spent their early years in rebellious and energetic adventure, and now balance being a family man with tattoo sleeves and memories of punk rock clothing and haircuts, My Dad Use to Be so Cool by Keith Negley is a funny and stylish look at the father-son bond and modern masculinity.  Likewise, Tell Me A Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee shares the story of a little boy asking his father about the tattoos covering his body, and the father’s responses share meaningful life experiences, such as meeting his wife and his military service, that inspired his body art.

Finally, the Pew Research Center reports that the narratives and experiences surrounding fatherhood continue to shift in American culture, with father’s in 2018 reporting more time spent with their children, seeing fatherhood as an important part of their identity, and higher desire and importance placed on both parents bonding with newborns than in past generations.  A few books that demonstrate father and child bonding with a dad spending a day with their child are Peek! A Thai Hide and Seek by Minfong Ho, Ask Me by Bernard Waber, and My Father’s Shop by Satomi Ichikawa. 

This article appears in the June/July 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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