A feather. A fork. These things mean more than they seem when viewed through the loving eyes of a family in two new picture books, FINN’S FEATHER and STERLING, BEST DOG EVER from debut authors.
FINN’S FEATHER features an upbeat and energetic child who discovers a white feather on his doorstep. He runs to show the new treasure to his mother, explaining that the feather is from his brother, Hamish. His mother responds with a deep breath and a big hug. His teacher’s reaction is likewise muted. But Finn’s friend Lucas understands and shares in his delight. Together they find ways to include the special feather in their playtime.
With the feather as an equal, adventuresome partner, it is as if Finn’s deceased brother is right beside them, sharing in the delight of a spring day. When Finn finally decides to write a letter to Hamish, he uses the feather as a pen. “I whishyou were here,” he writes, and secures his message in a tree branch.
Abbott’s warm illustrations are clear and soft, setting off the emotional tale with gentle tenderness. Simple and generously spaced, the images leave ample room for Noble’stext to carry deeper meaning. The pastel color palette is attractively textured, drawing readers’ eyes to the ever-present, symbolic feather. This poignant book is ideal for helping children understand the range of complex emotions, grief and happiness, that accompany our experiences of loss and remembrance.
It’s a fork, or a dog, that stars in STERLING, BEST DOG EVER. Although no home has ever wanted to keep Sterling, he is determined to find a family. Outside the Butlery Cutlery Factory, he comes up with a plan to be shipped inside a package of utensils. Sure, he may have to disguise himself as a fork to succeed, but he’s resourceful!
The Gilbert family is skeptical but accepting of Sterling, and their dog-obsessed daughter is delighted beyond measure. But Sterling’s role is not entirely clear. Did the family want a fork, a dog, or should he try to be a whisk, a rolling pin, or a chandelier? Young readers will giggle at Sterling’s enthusiastic attempts to carve out a place for himself in the new family order.
Cassie’s illustrations are colorful, humorous and well-paced. Even when attempting to fill-in as an inanimate household item, Sterling is imbued with emotion, expression and energy. His earnest efforts and the girl’s equally passionate yearning to help her “dog-fork” assimilate are heart-tugging and funny at the same time. STERLING is a quirky, clever tale of self-acceptance and love that will hold special appeal for readers with rescue dogs.
• Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey
Click here to read another recent review by Cathy.
Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
THE FUNERAL Written and illustrated by Matt James (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press; $18.00, Ages 4-8)
Matt James’s forty-page picture book, The Funeral, opens with a ringing phone at Norma’s house. A few days later, her family’s going to great-uncle Frank’s funeral. Norma has to practice her sad face in the mirror because, in actuality, she’s thrilled to miss a day of school and see her favorite cousin.
While the text engages our senses, the vivid illustrations capture the story’s emotional heart. In church, grays contrast with the bright colors of the stained-glass windows, “swirling song” of the organ, and familiar smell of Norma’s mom’s purse. The acrylic and ink art on Masonite has a layered qualify because of dimensional elements made from cut paper, masking tape, rolled-up twine, cardboard, and scroll-sawn Masonite (all painted with acrylic).
This exploration of a funeral from Norma’s viewpoint demonstrates that, while she does reflect on the gravity of the occasion, it’s the details adults may take for granted that influence her perceptions of this unusual day. The girl’s wondrous childhood curiosity allows for philosophical questions alongside simple acts of fun.
★Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal
This year there are more fab Father’s Day books than I’ve ever seen before so I found it rather difficult to narrow down my favorites to just a few. Here are some of this year’s Father’s Day books I recommend.
Hammer and Nails Written by Josh Bledsoe Illustrated by Jessica Warrick (Flashlight Press; $17.95, Ages 4-8) Josh Bledsoe wrote this story about my husband, or at least he could have because the father in Hammer and Nails (love the wordplay in this title) has a heart of gold with a touch of pink. When his daughter’s playdate plans fall through, it’s dad to the rescue, declaring a daddy daughter day. The pair agree to trade off on completing their lists of activities they’d intended to do before things changed.
If you’ve ever known a father to play dress up with his daughter and even agree to have his hair and nails done, you’ll find that guy here, bonding beautifully with his child. At the same time, the dad asks his daughter to step outside her comfort zone to pound some nails into loose boards on their fence amongst other chores. “Princess, sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun. Try it.” Everything about Hammer and Nails is fun and upbeat from Warrick’s silly scene of a laundry fight to daddy and daughter getting down with some celebratory moves. With each new page turn, this book will fill young readers with the joy of experiencing quality and creative time spent with a caring dad.
Beard in a Box Written and illustrated by Bill Cotter (Knopf BYR: $17.99, Ages 4-8) Just when you think you’ve seen every kind of Father’s Day book, Beard in a Box arrives! A boy who is convinced the source of his dad’s coolness and power is his beard, decides it’s time to grow one of his own. Only he can’t, despite multiple imaginative efforts. Lo and behold, what should happen to be on TV while this lad is despairing his lack of facial hair – a commercial touting the amazing kid-tested, dad-approved Beard in a Box from SCAM-O. This simple five-step program appeared to work and there were all kinds of bristles available -from the Beatnik to the Biker, the Lincoln to the Santa. What the commercial failed to say was that after following all the required steps, the user had to wait 10-15 years to see results.
When little dude tells his dad how he was ripped off, he notices his father’s beard is gone. Can that mean his dad has lost his coolness? Maybe not with Cotter’s clever examples proving you can’t judge a dad by his beard! The hilarity of Beard in a Box begins with the cover and continues all the way through to the endorsements from satisfied Beard in a Box customers on the back cover: “Don’t take more than the recommended dose. Trust me on this.” – Bigfoot A not-to-miss new read for Father’s Day or any day you need a good laugh or your child yearns for a five o’clock shadow.
Dad School Written by Rebecca Van Slyke Illustrated by Priscilla Burris (Doubleday BYR; $16.99, Ages 3-7) Kids go to school to learn their ABCs so when a little boy’s dad says he also went to school, the youngster figures it had to be Dad school. Van Slyke and Burris have teamed up again after last year’s hit, Mom School, to bring readers a glimpse of all the skills a father must acquire to parent successfully.
“At Dad school, I think they learn how to fix boo-boos, how to mend leaky faucets, and how to make huge snacks …” There is a lot of wonderful humor in both the text and artwork that will not be lost on parents reading the story aloud, especially the parts about dads learning how to multi-talk or their failure to learn how to match clothes, brush hair, and clean the bathroom. Dad School is totally entertaining from start to finish, only I wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I loved the little boy’s imagination and am certain your kids will, too.
Monster & Son Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Joey Chou (Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 2-4) Here’s a fresh take on Father’s Day, a look at the father/son dynamic from all kinds of monsters’ point of view. Filling the pages of this wild ride are yetis, werewolves, dragons, serpents and skeletons sharing their own special, often “rough and rowdy” type of love.
Chou’s visuals are modern. They feel bold and imaginative with colors perfectly suited for a monstrous read. LaRochelle has written Monster & Sonusing well-paced rhyme that adds to the various father/son activities featured on every page. Whether stirring up waves for a game of catch or frightening off a knight coming to the aid of a damsel in distress, these monster dads all have one thing in common, and though it may be giant-sized, it undeniably love.
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers Written by Avi (Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up) This collection of seven short stories is sure to move middle grade readers and make them think about their own relationships with their fathers and grandfathers. According to the jacket flap, what the stories have in common is that they each explore the question: “What is the most important thing a father can do for his son?” Each story features a new character facing a different situation.
Stories flows easily one to the next meaning they can be read in one sitting or just one at a time. I’ve chosen three to highlight here. In the book’s opening story, Dream Catcher, Paul is an 8th grader who feels disconnected from his father. When circumstances require him to spend a week of school break with his estranged grandfather in Denver, Paul begins to understand the demons that have plagued his grandfather and caused the estrangement. Both Paul and his grandfather work together to forge a new relationship leaving the reader with hope that Paul’s father and grandfather may too at last be reconciled.
Beat Up introduces Charlie who has plans to attend a church dance despite a friend’s warning that gangs may be present. Though the dance goes off well, Charlie gets surrounded by a gang then beat up on his way home, only to be chastised by his unforgiving father for having pretended to be hurt and knocked out rather than fighting back and putting himself at greater risk. “Biderbiks don’t cry” is what Charlie’s dad believes, but Charlie is clearly not a coward for having sought a safe solution to his assault. Beat Up is a powerful tale of a son’s courage to speak up in the face of his father’s unjust fury.
Departed deals with the accidental death of Luke’s father before their camping trip that shakes up a family. When what appears to be the father’s ghost remains around the apartment, Luke realizes what he must do with his father’s ashes to set his soul free, and thus come to terms with his father’s passing. While there are not always happy endings, there are certainly realistic, satisfying, and sometimes heart wrenching conclusions offering much to learn from the various young men’s approach to life and the father/son dynamic.
Papa Seahorse’s Search by Anita Bijsterbosch (Clavis; $14.95, Ages 1-4) A sturdy lift-the-flap counting book about a Papa Seahorse looking everywhere for his missing little seahorse. Numbers introduced range from 1-10 and the cast of characters making appearances behind and in front of the assorted flaps include a colorful puffer fish, sea turtles, angelfish, sea snake, crabs, a sea anemone, jellyfish, octopuses and shrimp. This book will provide interactive fun for pre-schoolers and toddlers alike.
Superhero Dad Written by Timothy Knapman Illustrated by Joe Berger (Nosy Crow; $15.99, Ages 3-7) Kids will relate to the main character’s über admiration for his father in this rhyming read-aloud, Superhero Dad. Though not a new concept, the idea of a dad who can make a super breakfast though he’s only half awake, or make monsters disappear, is one that is always appealing to children. Coupled with comic book styled artwork, and a definitely cool die-cut cover, this humorous take on what qualities qualify for superhero-dom is a fast paced, fun read that is sure to please for Father’s Day.
Gator Dad Written and illustrated by Brian Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 4-7) If you’re looking for something original, this is it. The father in Brian Lies’ Gator Dad knows how to show his kids a good time and that’s evident on every wild and wacky gator-filled page. Intent on squeezing in the most fun a day can offer with his three gator kids, Gator Dad can make roaming aimlessly in the park an adventure, make bath time the best time, and make bed time stories come alive. It’s obvious this dad gains the greatest joy giving his gator-all in everything he does with and for his children.
Todd Parr, with his signature bold and bright style, gently approaches one of the toughest experiences of life with hope and the assurance of healing in The Goodbye Book.
Saying goodbye is never easy and sorting out the myriad emotions that arise from such an experience can seem impossible. At first glance, I felt Parr’s touching book was simply making the “7 stages of grief” more accessible to children, but, in fact, the book deals with the issue of loss in a more in-depth and complex manner.
Parr establishes a safe distance for children to relate to such scary feelings through his main character, the goldfish. As readers, we immediately sense the feeling of sadness after the goldfish is separated from his friend. Supporting characters, a girl and black & white dog, are also grieving. Through the simplicity of their expressions, you can feel a multitude of emotions; they don’t merely look sad but confused and even emotionally numb. At the same time, it’s important to note- herein lies the beginning of healing because the sadness is shared among friends.
But the pain of the loss is very fresh in the fish’s heart, so the range of emotions is wide: “You might be very sad. You might be very mad. You might not feel like talking to anyone.” Your daily activities, like eating and sleeping, may be interrupted. You may also withdraw from activities you once enjoyed, like going to a birthday party. When you’re grieving doesn’t it seem everybody else is happy and living a perfect life? The celebration makes your sadness even more painful, and you think you’ll never be able to experience that kind of joy again. So when the goldfish drops the party hat and swims away from the party, we know exactly what he’s feeling.
The most touching page for me is when the fish sets a table for two “pretend[ing] it didn’t happen.” The expression on his face is heart wrenching, but through his sadness we readers realize–the fish is beginning to accept what has happened. Through the passage of time and the memories of good times shared he “eventually …start[s] to feel better.” We see positive changes in our fish’s behavior. We see him reaching out to someone, talking to his friend, the dog, and expressing his feelings through drawing. Most importantly, our hero’s actions show us there are things we can do to help with the coping process. We need not feel ashamed of our feelings and can open up whenever we’re ready.
The Goodbye Book can be used by parents and educators alike to talk about the spectrum of loss: from leaving behind a friend or relative who lives far away to the final farewell we experience when a loved one dies. As Parr shows us, healing is not a linear path from grief to happiness; acceptance takes time. In the end, the assurance of love is all we need to cope and recover. We find comfort in knowing that someone we love will be there to listen to us and hold us.
A gentle and loving approach to the tough subject of loss, Todd Parr’s The Goodbye Book is ideal for healing hearts.