Saturday, June 16, 2012

Literary Fathers--the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Megan and I have long discussed the absence of good father figures in children's literature. Have you ever noticed this lack? I came up with 10 favorite book moms (and types of book moms) quite easily around Mother's Day. But it's not so easy to do for book dads. Here's a quick snapshot of what we have to work with:

  • Picture books: a smattering of "I love you" type books about Dads-kids (such as Daddy, I Love You), but not a whole lot of picture books actually featuring dads being, well, great dads.
  • Fairy tales and folk tales: oh, boy, folks. Have you ever noticed that, while mothers are strikingly absent and replaced by mean, nasty stepmothers, the dads in fairy tales are downright awful? Beauty's dad bargains away a daughter in return for a safe return home, the miller tells the king his daughter can spin straw into gold, Hansel and Gretel's dad lets his wife talk him into leaving his children in the forest to die,....
  • Middle grade and Young Adult fiction: the dad is usually absent or, in a plot device that occurs far too often for my tastes, we see the dad-who-abandons-his-child-and-she-discovers-herself-in-novel.... (Moon Over Manifest is a recent award-winning example). Or, we have the terrible-dad-who-sticks-around-and-main-character-still-manages-to-discover-himself (like Schmidt's Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now).
Good dads are out there, but they're hard to find, especially in contemporary children's literature. Here is a small list of noteworthy father figures in books for kids--or books which honor the importance a father has in his child's life:

Mr. Penderwick tops our list. If you haven't met the Penderwicks, do so ASAP!  Mr. Penderwick is a widower with four daughters, and he is a great dad. Really--a GREAT dad. He's not perfect, but he comes pretty darn close.

Mr. Weasley. His wife Molly made my top 10 book moms list, and her husband makes this one. Ingenius, brave, devoted to his family--Mr. Weasley is a great example of a book dad who defends his family, works hard at his job, and loves his wife. (Harry Potter Series)

Gen's father in the Queen's Thief Series. He doesn't land in the spotlight too often in these books, but a man who can raise a son like Gen is a man to be admired.

Frank Willis and Henry's father in the 100 Cupboards Series. Their wives also made my top 10 book moms list; these are strong couples indeed. Brave men defending their families, loving their wives, raising their children right, and leading their families and communities well.

Frances's father in the beloved Frances books. Another husband of a mom who made the top 10 list, Frances's father loves her and is an involved dad! I love it.

Matthew Cuthbert, husband of top 10 Marilla Cuthbert. He's an adoptive father, and a terrific one. Gentle and understanding of his Anne, he loves her to pieces.

Easy Reader Dads: interestingly enough, easy reader land is a gold mine of terrific, involved dads! Henry's dad (Henry and Mudge books) and Annie's dad (Annie and Snowball) are both great dads. The dads in Mouse Tales, Oliver the Pig, and other similar tales are clearly involved in their children's lives, too, even if they're not main characters.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a terrific adventure of a boy who pretends to be a dad in order to go up in a rocket and orbit the moon. In the process, he discovers just how valuable his own father is; the book celebrates dads!

Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri is the reverse of many stories out there for the upper middle grades/YA audience: in it, a boy is dumped back on his father's doorstep and the book show these two strangers getting to know each other again and learning the importance of both having a father and being a father. Neither is perfect, but the importance of an involved father comes through.

Please give us suggestions in the comments of other great books about great dads that you know of--we'd love to discover them. We're particular interested in picture books featuring great dads.


  1. I haven't read it but Danny Champion of the World by Dahl is supposed to be a great father son adventure.

  2. I haven't read it but Danny Champion of the World by Dahl is supposed to be a great father son adventure.

  3. Oh yeah! I forgot about that one. I haven't read it either, but I'm putting it on my to read list...

  4. This is something I've thought of before myself and I've even felt guilty bringing home cute picture books from the library that celebrate mommies like My Mommy Hung the Moon by Jamie Lee Curtis or I Love My Mommy Laurel Porter-Gaylord, illustrated by Ashley Wolff. I've been delighted to find a couple of good picture books that good beyond the super-simple I love you-type books. I love My Daddy is a Giant by Carl Norac, illustrated by Ingrid Godon and My Father Knows the Names of Things by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. Both show the awe a child has for his or her father and each have wonderful illustrations.

  5. More good suggestions, Alley! Thanks. I used to have the I Love My Mommy Because book and had a companion I Love My Daddy Because one as well. Those were great. I'll have to check those others out. Megan and I especially have a hard time finding picture books in this category!

  6. Oh, I forgot to mention my all-time favorite literary father, Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Technically, TKAM isn't children's lit, but it's read by so many high school juniors I just couldn't let a post about great book fathers go by without throwing his name in the hat!

    1. Excellent addition to our lineup!


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