(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours magazine, June, 2022.)
Dads have often gotten a bad rap in children’s stories.
Take fairy tales, for example. Sometimes dads are weak, like the father in Hansel and Gretel who abandons his children in a forest at the urging of their step-mother. Other times they are oblivious, like the father in Cinderella who is seemingly unaware of the abuse his daughter suffers from his new wife and step-daughters. Often fathers are absent altogether, like in the various iterations of Snow White.
Even in more modern stories, dads don’t fare well. They are often buffoonish or boorish, like Papa Bear in The Berenstain Bears. When fathers are portrayed as involved, they are frequently also shown as immature and bumbling, often to the exasperation of their wives. An example of this trope is Arthur Weasley in Harry Potter whose child-like obsession with all things Muggle gets him into trouble sometimes with his no-nonsense wife, Molly.
No, dads historically don’t come off as terribly responsible parents in literature.
So for Father’s Day, I went looking for some fresher, newer, stereotype-busting picture books that show competent, caring and diverse dads. Here’s some that I love!
And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell — This heartwarming book tells the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who successfully hatched an egg and raised a penguin chick together.
Adventures With My Daddies, by Gareth Peters — Two book-loving daddies share adventurous bedtime stories with their child in this colourful book, including their family’s adoption story.
The Bench, by Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex — All about the special relationship between fathers and sons, the illustrations in The Bench are particularly noteworthy for showing a variety of diverse dads nurturing their children. One dad looks an awful lot like Prince Harry, but you’ll also see dads in wheelchairs, turbans and military uniforms too.
Etty Darwin And The Four Pebble Problem, by Lauren Soloy — This feel-good book is based on the close relationship between Henrietta Darwin and her father, the world-famous scientist, Charles Darwin.
Eyes That Speak To The Stars, by Joanna Ho — A beautiful tribute to Chinese culture, family and the bonds between 3 generations of male family members.
Hair Love, by Matthew A. Cherry – The animated short of this story by former NFL player Matthew Cherry won an Oscar in 2020; the book is just as fabulous, portraying a devoted dad learning how to style Black hair to make his daughter happy.
My Dad, by Susan Quinn — Baking, shopping and other everyday activities are some things the boy in this book enjoys with his dad. Looking closely at the illustrations, Mom only appears in photos, hinting Dad may be a single father or a stay-at-home dad.
More children’s books are being published now depicting fathers in a more positive, responsible light. As you celebrate Father’s Day this month with the men in your life who have nurtured and guided you, I hope you enjoy some books about dads that are as diverse and unique as they are!
Happy Father’s Day!