During June, Dad’s Day makes it easy to enjoy time with the fathers whose absence we feel keenly and in whose presence we often receive permission for the unexpected. Don’t forget to take this chance to laugh in honor of the man whose name you share.
My Father is Taller than a Tree by Joseph Bruchac
illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Dial, $16.99, Ages 3-6
This lyrical rhyming picture book is a tribute to dads, capturing thirteen different father-child pairings, in active and ordinary, exciting and everyday moments, giving shape to the closeness of the bond. Award-winners, author Bruchac and illustrator Halperin, supply reminders of diverse duos, featured in double-page spreads. A large illustration, above several smaller ones, depicts shared activities, such as raking leaves, bicycling, playing chess, reading together, playing instruments, and is accompanied by a simple couplet; for example, “He pats my back when I feel sad. He understands ’cause he’s my dad.”
Halperin’s characteristic detailed illustrations make skillful use of crayon and pencil colors, and feature expressive faces, while highlighting both familiar experience and ethnic variety. Bruchac has chosen uncomplicated language to accent the comfort of the known, even using assorted forms of address to include readers in the emotional impact, supplied by the strength of the connections to father, dad, pa, pop, papá. This unmistakably believable book is irresistible in its unaffected naturalness, and its unpretentious charm. With its realistic and heartwarming details, it is a delight for adults to pore over with young children.
Testing the Ice by Sharon Robinson
illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic, $16.99, Ages 7-10
More than a biography, author Robinson brings an often-told story of her famous father to younger children in this dramatic picture book. Award winner Nelson’s use of watercolor, pencil and oil evokes the strength of the family setting in the comparison of pioneer Jackie Robinson, as the first black major league baseball player, with his courage as he checked an icy lake in mid-winter, years later.
His children and their neighbor friends heard from Robinson himself, as he told about the segregation of black from white, not only in major league baseball but also, throughout the US in 1945. He explained his decision to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers despite insults, attacks and name calling that were both predicted and experienced, and the sweetness of victory when he hit a home run to win the game between the Dodgers and the Phillies that year.
Daughter Robinson demonstrates her dad’s courage after his retirement from baseball when she wanted to ice skate. She and her siblings and friends coaxed her dad to confirm the ice was safe without realizing until later, that he could not swim. The striking illustrations in rich, almost photographic, styling are based on family photos and radiate vigor and passion, honoring the memory of this baseball icon.
Stars Above Us by Geoffrey Norman
illustrations by E. B. Lewis
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 6-8
Afraid of the dark, Amanda discovers, with her daddy, that stars, fireflies, and crickets make the dark fun and beautiful. Daddy helps to make glowing stars and attaches them to Amanda’s ceiling, to help her remember him when he leaves.
Not only is this a story of being fearful of the dark, it’s also about the dread of departure, as the father prepares to go to war. He shows her how the stars will remind them of each other while he’s away – they will both be looking at the same stars, the ones on her ceiling and the ones in the sky.
Award winning illustrator Lewis uses dark and light in a dramatic set of contrasting paintings, which also emphasize the strength of the memories the family shares. Although the separation is difficult and long lasting, demonstrated by the growth of the puppy Daddy gives Amanda before leaving – naming it Bear after the Big Dipper, a familiar arrangement of stars in the night sky – it’s another way for Amanda to remember her dad. This reassuring story, about being present even in absence, is a welcome addition to the literature for children about a difficult experience.
Your Daddy was Just Like You by Kelly Bennett
illustrations by David Walker
Putnam, $16.99, Ages 3-5
Using a photo album, a grandmother explains for her grandson how similar he and his dad, her son, are to each other, as Dad listens. The repetition of the phrase, “just like you,” shapes the story, and strengthens its framework.
From birth to starting school, sometimes raising a ruckus, fuming and fussing, even to the point of time-outs, the familiar details of both generations will amuse young readers. Bright acrylics supply energy and movement, capturing body language, emotions and facial expressions, a successful matching of sometimes-comic illustrations with light-hearted, playful text.
Reviews published in June 2010 issue of FAMILY magazine