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Children's Book Reviews

*** DADDIES ***


Kate Marley

During the year, I sort of collect books that I think will be needed for various columns; it had been a while since I did one on fathers, so I figured June would be a good time to talk about good books that promote the good aspects of a good daddy. Dads are so important to a kid, despite what certain flawed studies claim, or the loss would not matter so much, now would it? I wanted to emphasize positive aspects particularly after reading the adult book below, Throwaway Dads.
One insight they offer is that on Father’s Day, there are stories in the newspapers and magazines about deadbeat dads, etc. But they point out that one doesn’t see such things on Mother’s Day - as if motherhood is more sancroset than fatherhood. Reverse sexism, if you will.
And I discovered that at least one of their complaints had real merit - that it WAS hard to find positive books about fathers in today’s children’s literature. Granted, I limited myself by trying to concentrate on fairly new books, but wouldn’t have expected such a limited selection, particularly for the older readers. Parents who would like more breadth can also turn to such classics as The Good Master by Kate Seredy, the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ignalls Wilder, Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, or Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary.
This is not to say that the stories of dysfunctional dads are totally out of place (unfortunately, they ring too true, too often) but they shouldn’t be the majority of stories available. What happened to teaching by example? Why was it so hard to find positive stories about dads? Girls now have their positive, strong female stories - let’s work on the boys too!
Think about it. At any rate, here are some newer titles that you and your kids might enjoy.


In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall c 1997, Lee & Low Books.
This collection of poems from various African-American artists celebrates the institution of fatherhood. All the illustrations are by Javaka Steptoe, executed in a variety of mediums and giving the impression of 3D collages. Very poignant was a poem he wrote as well, giving a eulogy to his late father John, who was a gifted and respected children’s book artist (remember Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, among others?).

Kevin and His Dad by Irene Smalls. c 1999, Little Brown.
When Mom’s away, it’s an extra special day for Kevin as he and his dad clean up the house before playing ball and taking in a movie. Told in rhyme, with glowing artwork by Michael Hays, it’s a warm celebration of how wonderful even a day spent cleaning can be when shared with someone special.

Daddy Will Be There by Lois G. Grambling. c 1998, Greenwillow.
Security and confidence go hand in hand, and this little girl knows that throughout the day, no matter what she does or where she goes, her daddy is there to take care of her. The implication is that he is a work at home dad, and so available for the little daily routines of a child. Pictures by Walter Gaffney-Kessell are a good compliment to the cozy feel of this story.

Daddy Calls Me Man by Angela Johnson. c 1997, Orchard Books.
A set of four paintings by his daddy are the catalyst for a little boy’s poetic reflections on his everyday life. Boldly colored, realistic and vibrant paintings by Rhonda Mitchell capture the joy of one family’s love.

I Shop with My Daddy by Grace Maccarone. c 1998, Scholastic.
Father and daughter are off to the market in this nice rhyming story that will have both adults and children smiling as the girl keeps on unsuccessfully trying to add yummy, but unhealthy stuff to the cart. Here’s a dad that can say NO, but in the end, Dad finds an answer to make them both happy. Bright, cartoonish illustrations by Denise Brunkus add to the general sense of cheerfulness.


Meanest Thing to Say by Bill Cosby. c 1997, Scholastic.
This is just one of a series of books by THE Bill Cosby showing children positive ways to deal with everyday problems they face. Here, Little Bill meets a new kid in school - who tries to introduce a new 'game' of name- calling. At dinner that night, his father gives him a clever answer to the unspoken but understood problem of how to be good and still ‘with it’. His father’s solution works the next day and Little Bill takes the next step forward all by himself. An excellent story! The bright collage illustrations are by Valerie Honeywood.

Mike Swan, Sink or Swim by Deborah Heiligman. c 1998, Bantam.
He’s starting swimming lessons and terrified - but his dad is there to talk to, and support him while encouraging him to keep on trying. With his dad and his friend helping him, Mike finds the courage to overcome his fear of the water. Funny pictures by Chris Demarest on every page capture Mike’s tribulations.

Father and Daughter Tales retold by Josephine Evetts-Secker. US c 1998, Abbeville Press.
This was an interesting way to look at father/daughter relationships - through folk tales from around the world. Some, like Beauty and the Beast, are well known, but the psychological implications in all ten are very interesting - how fathers help and hinder their daughters’ maturation is discussed in fascinating beginning and end notes. Pastel drawings throughout the collection are by Helen Cann.


These Are The Rules by Paul Many. c 1997, Walker.
Colm has lots to cope with the summer before his senior year in high school. His parents’ separation has increased the emotional distance between himself and his father, he’s stuck for the summer at a seedy lake cabin with no driver’s license and generally feel like a failure. It takes a seductive tease, a sports car, a sympathetic handyman and the girl next door to help him grow a little and begin to mend his relationship with his dad as he sorts through the conflicting rules of life and his own maturation. Alternately funny and poignant, Colm is a true frustrated teenager trying to make the best of a confusing world.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. First American edition c 1999, Orchard.
First published and set in Australia, this enthralling story about Josephine Alibrandi will strike a chord with lots of teens. She’s a scholarship student at a private school, and keenly feels the differences between the haves and have nots, the ethnics (like her, for yes, Italians are apparently ethics) and the English descendants. This is her senior year and so much is happening - schoolwork, friction with her grandmother, and falling in love. Her home life also becomes difficult when the father she never knew moves back to town and discovers for the first time that he even has a daughter. How she works through all this makes for an absorbing story.


Throwaway Dads by Ross D Parke & Armin A. Brott. c 1999, Houghton Mifflin.
The subtitle claims that this is about 'the myths and barriers that keep men from being the fathers they want to be'. Up front, I must say that there were parts I loved and parts I hated.
They try very hard to minimize the problems of deadbeat dads and abusive dads, and as far as I was concerned, they failed. This could be that I have had too much contact with such creatures, and may be prejudiced. Like nearly everyone, they try to use statistics to prove their point, but didn’t convince me.
They complain a lot about how women hold them back, and I found their whining as irritating as when women try to play victim. Your ex being difficult about visitation? So what? Is this the kids’ fault, to be taken out on them? Call them anyway! Write them! Just don't ever give up trying, and then blame it on HER. Just do it! Yes, it’s hard, and heartbreaking to ‘lose’ children to a divorce, but your kids need you, so don’t give up!
On the other hand, their points about fathers’ negative image in our popular culture had real merit, as I mentioned in the intro. Books aren’t the worst example either - movies and TV shows seem to really have it in for dads. Bumbling, inept, slow, out of it, dense, inefficient, and just plain stupid - this is the image kids are bombarded with daily. Such shows and commercials never explain how men who supposedly run the world turn into idiots as soon as they come home. Any other group - women, blacks, etc., - who suffered from such nearly totally negative portrayals would be up in arms and rightly so. Again, one has to go to the old movies and TV shows to achieve a balance of views.
As you can see, it certainly was a book to get one thinking, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to make life better for, or be, a good daddy.

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