Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Review: Father and Son books

Bigger Than Daddy by Harriet Ziefert, pictures by Elliot Kreloff. Blue Apple Books, 2006. This is a story about a boy and his dad. Mom is not in the book. The little boy wants to be as big as his dad. They play at the playground and then go home for dinner. Before dinner the boy asks daddy to play a pretend game with him, where the boy is big and daddy is little. It's fun until the boy wants a drink and gets hungry and daddy says he's too little to get him anything. Then the boy has to insist that they stop pretending. After dinner (which daddy gets on the table in ten minutes!) daddy gives him a bath and tucks him into bed. Buddy's reaction to this story the first time we read it: "That's not right. They didn't do the bedtime story. How come he didn't read the story?" I had to agree - the bedtime story is missing and that's not right. I am also wondering how dad got the boy home from the playground so easily, played so cheerfully at the end of the day and got dinner ready in just ten minutes. I'd like to be that kind of dad!

Daddy Goes to Work by Jabari Asim, illustrated by Aaron Boyd. Little, Brown and Company, 2006. In this story a girl goes to work with her dad. He works in an office and he seems to be the boss. He is very patient with her, letting her wake him up early, cooking French toast for breakfast, and sharing the paper with her on the subway. When they get to the office building he has to show his ID to the guard in the elevator. I wondered about this; if every one in the office already knows the girl (and they greet her warmly), why doesn't the guard know her dad? Once in the office he lets her help send an email to an overseas client. That seems a bit of a stretch to me. Then they have a meeting and she gets to help hold up the charts and graphs while everyone smiles and laughs. I think this is more of a child's fantasy than a realistic "bring your daughter to work day", but then I've never done that so I don't know. The pictures are nicely warm and bright. I don't especially like the rhyming text. Jabari Asim wrote two board books we absolutely love but this is the first regular picture book by him that we've read.

My favorite dad-and-me book is still Just the Two of Us by Will Smith, with pictures by Kadir Nelson. Scholastic Press, 2001. The text comes from a song written by Ralph MacDonald, William Salter, and Bill Withers. Smith did an arrangement on his 1997 album "Big Willie Style" that I really like. The problem is every time I read this book I want to sing it. I want to sound like Will Smith singing it and of course that ain't happening. I think I will have to get the tune and just play it when we read the book. I adore the illustrations in this book. The father and son are so in tune with each other; the father so tender and the son growing up in the glow of his love. My favorite pages are when the dad is awake in the middle of the night, bent over the bassinet adoring his baby son, hands outstretched to cradle his tiny head. Mom is fast asleep behind him. I also love the page where dad is on the computer and the son is standing behind him waiting for him to figure out how to put the DVD in the drive and start the movie. The words are full of wisdom:
"Throughout life people will make you mad
Disrespect you and treat you bad.
Let God deal with the things they do
Cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

Always tell the truth, say your prayers
Hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears
You're living proof that dreams come true
I love you and I'm here for you.

When the world attacks
And you slide off track
Remember one fact
I got your back."

Of the three books here I would say get the first two from the library but you really need to purchase the Will Smith book and the song. here it is on YouTube.


art-sweet said...

This kind of crosses the lines of your two blogs - but it's a question I've been having.

How much do you try to read books to your boys that reflect their lives and how much do you read books that don't reflect their reality? I worry about reading tender father-son books to my boy because he won't have a father in his life - will it just make him feel bad?

cloudscome said...

I have thought about this a lot too. Buddy already feels bad about not having a father. Talking about it and reading books about dads doesn't make it worse, it gives him a way to process his reality. I don't want to make it more of an issue by putting it in his face all the time, but I know it is a big concern to him so I offer the books to see if he wants to explore it more. I think it is good to give him positive examples of fatherhood. No, more than good, it is essential. He sees men in fatherhood roles in our real life, but books are another vehicle for playing with the role. I know he thinks/feels/imagines what his father is like and what it means to have a father and BE a father, so I want to give him material for those fantasies. In our huge stack of weekly library books he zeroed right in on the two about fathers and has wanted me to read nothing else all week.

I don't think I can overdo it. My focus and intent is to supply really good material and shape the learning environment. Then I let him go towards his interest. I think one of the most important things we can do for our kids is let them express and explore their own burning issues. This is one of the things literature does best.