12th June 2018
A guest blog by celebrated book blogger Read it Daddy.
Let’s face it, dads get a fairly raw deal in most children’s books, sometimes deservedly so. As a dad-and-daughter book blogging duo, both my daughter and I have lost count of the number of children’s books that A) feature dads in a supporting role and B) feature those dads usually as a completely hopeless waste of space.
Dads are often seen bumbling through the story in secondary or background roles. They’re quite often depicted as greedy, lazy or as merely there for the comedy pratfalls, to be mocked or made fun of.
So how did this happen? Are we to believe that children’s authors and illustrators base their observations on their own dear old dads? Perhaps it’s a throwback to a time when dads really did a lot less to help out at home, or spent a lot of the time slumped in front of “World of Sport” on a Saturday afternoon, watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks lambast each other in a wrestling ring rather than spending time with their kids.
Of course, the world has (thankfully) moved on from any bizarre half-remembered 1970s depiction of the dad role – and slowly but surely, in recent years, we have thankfully started to see a change happening in books at last.
Let’s have a look at five picture books we’ve been lucky enough to encounter through our book blogging adventures over at Read It Daddy.
The Dressing-Up Dad
A great example of ‘Dad books done right’ is The Dressing-Up Dad by Maudie Smith and Paul Howard (OUP). This book was an easy Book of the Week win for us with a dad who goes the extra mile to dress up and have fun alongside his son Danny. Dads are usually exceptional at ‘being silly’ (and my own daughter would definitely attest to this) and though there’s a moment when Danny wishes his dad would just be like other children’s dads (boring, probably dressed in a tweed suit, listlessly staring at a smartphone) he realises that dad is far more fun when he’s joining in, having fun and – let’s face it – being a bit of a showoff.View Book
Books that underline the importance of ‘dad and child’ time are also appearing in greater numbers than ever before.
Me and My Dad
The sublime Me and my Dad by Robin Shaw (Hodder Children’s Books) was written and illustrated by one of the chief animators on the recent Christmas cartoon smash “We’re going on a Bear Hunt. It’s a book that could almost have been written for a couple of bookworms like us!
In it, a Dad and Daughter have an adventurous trip to the local book café, with imagination, colour and magic all adding to a story celebrating great dads, fabulous books and children’s imaginations. There were so many glorious little touches in this one, but above all it was great to once again see a dad engaging with their child over a love of books, something you very rarely see in children’s stories. (We reviewed this in our 2017 Father's Day round up)
Similarly, Shirley Hughes’ books are usually really great at showing dads in a positive light, and it sometimes feels surprisingly rare for us to see children’s picture books where Dad is actually part of a family unit rather than a single parent.
Alfie and Dad
Alfie and Dad by Shirley Hughes (Bodley Head) collects together three of the best stories featuring Alfie and his dad Simon in a superb single volume.
Shirley’s gift for making ordinary everyday life seem somehow more exciting and full of adventure comes to the fore in these stories where Alfie visits a Lost Property Office to retrieve a beloved toy, Dad helps Alfie over his fears during a sleepover with Alfie’s best pal, and Dad even offers sage advice on dealing with a stray cat that wants to move in. Not the usual topics you see dads dealing with in children’s stories, which perhaps makes this collection feel even more worthy of attention. (See our full review of Alfie and Dad here)View Book
Sometimes we do see children’s books that gently poke fun at dads who perhaps need a kick in the pants when it comes to spending more time with their children.
School for Dads
School for Dads by Adam and Charlotte Guillain with illustrations by Ada Grey (Egmont Publishing) is a fun reminder that kids do get a bit fed up with some of our worst habits and have absolutely no qualms about pointing them out to us. (We reviewed this book in our 2016 Father's Day roundup)View Book
One final book worthy of mention touches on a subject that my daughter and I have definitely bonded over in recent years.
When Dad Showed Me the Universe
As a family of self-confessed space geeks we loved When Dad Showed Me The Universe by Ulf Stark and Eva Eriksson (Gecko Press). The story is a beautifully woven tale about a Dad and Son embarking on a secret night-time mission to see something amazing. They stop off for supplies before making their way to a nearby hilltop for a spot of stargazing, something we’ve also done as a family many times, being lucky enough to live somewhere where we can take a short drive into the nearby countryside and gaze up at the stars on a clear crisp winter’s night (though we must admit we’re not nearly as sensible as the Dentist Dad in this book, our supplies are nearly always sugary and sweet!)
The subject matter sang out to us, but to me personally it was also the fact that the dad in this book clearly treasures his time with his son, and delights in the passing of knowledge, of wonder and a shared experience from one generation to another. That’s definitely such a strong and positive message, and one beautifully depicted in this book. (My daughter and I first reviewed this book in 2015)View Book
As an aspiring children’s writer, I’m often frustrated by “defaults” in books, and how difficult it is sometimes to avoid lazily falling into the trap of using them in my own writing. Perhaps the ‘default dad’ will eventually disappear too, replaced by dad characters who are a bit more realistic and representative of those of us who genuinely love spending time with our kids.
You can read more brilliant book reviews by Read it Daddy over on his blog.