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11 Picture Books that Do a Great Job of Depicting Dads

My son’s recently gotten into the series of books on Alfie, by Shirley Hughes. They’re great because they show little boys doing silly little boy things, like pushing their friends, or locking their parents out of the house, but they’re not preachy and no one receives a comeuppance. Instead, the grown ups just tell the kids, with an almost audible sigh, to stop fooling around.

Apparently in some of the books Alfie has a dad, but not in the two we have. There’s no sign or mention of a father being in Alfie’s life. And the thing is, that’s not uncommon in kids’ books.

Like, why is there no mention of a dad in the Toy Story movies? There are plenty of other stories that my son has been obsessed with and insisted we read again and again that have been completely mom-centric. Llama Llama Red Pajama and Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed come to mind, both stories where mom is putting the kids to bed alone, with not a word about dad. Classic picture books like The Runaway Bunny or Where The Wild Things Are also join the list, though perhaps less surprisingly, since these books came from a time when moms bore the brunt of childcare duties.

An article on The Good Men project that talked about the book Oh, Oh Baby Boy, a picture book about a dad taking care of a child, got me wondering — where are the great dads in picture book literature? The dads who really parent, make decisions, share advice, express care and love, and hopefully even do some chores. If you have an awesome dad (or two!) in your house who contribute to the childcare then here are some books you need to check out. Perhaps you can think of others? If so, please leave them in the comments section!

  • Dad gets on the page! 1 of 12
    oh oh baby boy

    Oh, Oh Baby Boy is a new picture book by Janine Macbeth that features a baby spending quality time with his dad. Click on to find more...

    Click here to purchase from Amazon.com for $14.36

  • Just Me and My Dad, by Mercer Mayer 2 of 12
    me and my dad

    This was the first book I thought of for this post, a fun installment in the "Little Critter" series that sends the critter out camping with his dear ole' dad. They do some real guy stuff, like fishing and setting up the tent. Little Critter wants to do it all by himself, and dad forgives him his blunders, even when it costs them their fried fish dinner. My favorite bit? When the critter gets scared and needs comforting. That, and they hang a photo of Mom in their tent.

     Click here to purchase Just Me and My Dad on Amazon.com for $12.11

  • Finding Nemo, A Golden Book 3 of 12
    nemo

    The second book that came to mind was this adaptation of the wonderful Pixar film Finding Nemo. Alright, so maybe this counts more as a movie than a book, but my son certainly likes it. In fact, he didn't make it through the movie till reading this book a few times. I think all dads will find Nemo's dad Marlin's quest to find his lost son a resonant one, especially since he's the sole caregiver of his son. There's high drama in here for kids and parents alike.

    Click here to purchase Finding Nemo, A Golden Book for $8.48

  • Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen 4 of 12
    owl moon

    Jane Yolen is an amazingly prolific author of many great books for kids, but Owl Moon is certainly among her top achievements. The book is a lovely, simple recount of a dad, "Pa," and his son's walk through the woods, looking for owls. It manages to be both sweet and sensitive and yet strong and masculine at once — no small feat.

     Click here to purchase Owl Moon from Amazon.com for $12.68

  • Curious George, by Margaret and H.A. Rey 5 of 12
    curious george

    First, I have to admit that my son knows the books based on the originals, not the original books themselves. Also, I know that The Man in the Yellow Hat is (obviously) not George's father — they always refer to him as George's "friend," which I don't think is quite right since he (and this is my point) plays the sole caregiving role and is, in effect, George's father. And while he doesn't always play the role well (I mean, who leaves a monkey alone in the apartment while they go to work?), his love and concern for George shine through. If there were any "dad" I'd like to take out to the bar, it'd be this guy, whatever his name is. I mean, he works at a science museum! How cool is that?

    Click here to purchase The Complete Adventures of Curious George from Amazon.com for $20.48

  • Subway, by Christopher Niemann 6 of 12
    subway

    Obviously the dad in Niemann's book is at least a part-time stay-at-home parent, because only a person who has spent way too long in the house with his kids would come up with the idea of passing a rainy day in the subway. Which they do, till 8pm! At which point the dad has to drag the whining boys off the train and home for bed. This is a perfect boy book, since not only does it feature a dad in action, mapping routes from station to station, but so many little guys go through a hardcore train phase. It's been a favorite in our house for years.

    Click here to purchase Subway from Amazon.com for $13.28

  • Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Suess 7 of 12
    horton

    Horton, like The Man with the Yellow Hat, is definitely not the father to Mayzie bird's egg, but he acts like one, sitting on the thing for a year in all kinds of weather, and putting up with mockery from the American public, who display the nesting elephant in a traveling circus. (I'm sure some stay-at-home dads will be able to relate to this kind of treatment.) That is, he acts like one until the end, when the egg hatches, and Horton is rewarded for his efforts with a son, who loves him and even resembles him. Talk about nurture over nature! Or perhaps there's an adoption metaphor at work here? The book works on several levels.

     Click here to purchase Horton Hatches the Egg from Amazon.com for $10.94

  • Children of the Forest, by Elsa Beskow 8 of 12
    children of forest

    The forest children in Beskow's book are only a couple of inches high, but their tiny Papa towers over other dads in his bravery, running out to do battle with a wicked viper clad in pine-cone armor. In times of peace, he teaches the kids to sort out the delicious from the poisonous mushrooms, tells stories about cities of yore, and scatters seeds for the creatures in winter time. What a little Buddhist! Resolute in the face of evil, otherwise calm and compassionate, an all-around cool dude. I'd certainly like to hear more of his exploits. (Bet he sowed some wild oats in his day! Literally.)

    Click here to purchase Children of the Forest from Amazon.com for $8.96

  • Father Bear Comes Home, by Else Holmelund Minarik 9 of 12
    father bear

    Father Bear plays a role in most of the Little Bear books, but he gets special consideration here, coming home from a long fishing trip at sea. There are presents to share and stories to tell, and at one point Father Bear loses his patience with Little Bear, or was he only trying to startle Little Bear out of his hiccups? Clever bear! There's something very loving and yet also stern in Father Bear, happy to be home but tired from his trip, that I think most working dads will relate to. Maurice Sendak's wonderful illustrations make this a pleasure for parents to read too.

    Click here to purchase Father Bear Comes Home from Amazon.com for $15.26

  • Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig 10 of 12
    sylvester

    Here's one where the dad is unremarkable, just a part of the story, really. And that's why I love it. Because when dear little donkey Sylvester misuses his magic pebble and goes missing, it's not just the mom that's distraught, it's dad too. We see him rushing around to the neighbors, asking if they've seen his boy. And while mom sorrowfully knits, he sits at a table, unable to focus on his reading for his distress. He reminds me of Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, just as torn up about the loss of his child as his wife. Which, of course, a dad would be.

    Click here to purchase Sylvester and the Magic Pebble from Amazon.com for $13.55

  • Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever, by Richard Scarry 11 of 12
    richard scarry

    In general, Richard Scarry does a great job of depicting dads at work around the house and spending time with their kids — in one book we have, he even shows Huckle Cat's dad washing dishes while rocking a pink apron. I especially love the story "When Bunny Grows Up" from the Best Storybook Ever, when a little bunny reveals, after much guessing, that when he grows up he wants to be a good dad, just like the one he's got. Nice!

    Click here to purchase Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever from Amazon.com for $12.08

  • Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems 12 of 12
    knuffle bunny

    Ok, so maybe things Trixie loses her beloved Knuffle Bunny because it's daddy taking her to the laundromat, and the guy just doesn't understand how much she loves her stuffed animal, or that she's trying to tell him that KB's gone. But the guy comes through in the end, right? And he does laundry. All in all, a good one to read because hey, let's face it: sometimes daddy screws up. But that doesn't mean he doesn't love you.

    Click here to purchase Knuffle Bunnyfrom Amazon.com for $12.68

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