Father's Day picture books 2020

For Father’s Day — June 21 — here are some recent picture books that celebrate loving fathers and father figures. See also The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl in the upcoming July/August issue of the Horn Book Magazine (“It’s notable to see a single-father, working-class household represented…”) and our recently updated Father’s Day picture books booklist over at the Guide/Reviews Database.

Big Papa and the Time Machine
by Daniel Bernstrom; illus. by Shane W. Evans
Primary    Harper/HarperCollins    40 pp.
1/20    978-0-06-246331-9    $17.99

As Big Papa drives his (unnamed) grandson to school, he learns that the child would rather not go because he’s scared. The solution? Big Papa’s “time machine” — visually represented by a big-bodied classic car — which gives the child insights into his grandfather’s own life and fears. Big Papa’s stories take the two back to 1952, as he is leaving his Little Rock home to make his way in the world. To 1955, as he works the perilous job of brick mason on Chicago skyscrapers. To 1957, as he summons up the nerve to dance with the woman who will ultimately become the child’s Nana. With each story he tells, his grandson asks about his fears (“Was you scared?”). In response, the older man dispenses down-home wisdom, empowering the youth with every word (“Sometimes you gotta lose the life you have if you ever gonna find the one you want”) and with the refrain “That’s called being brave.” When Big Papa relates his last two memories/fears, it’s up to his grandson to remind him about the definition of bravery. Bernstrom’s colloquial text captures the warm relationship between Big Papa and his grandson. Punctuated by brilliant yellows and blues, Evans’s illustrations of swirling stars and outlined memories evoke the ethereal quality of the journey through time. EBONI NJOKU

Kaia and the Bees
by Maribeth Boelts; illus. by Angela Dominguez
Preschool, Primary    Candlewick    40 pp.
3/20    978-1-5362-0105-5    $16.99

Kaia knows that she should appreciate bees, and she would if she weren’t so scared of them. It doesn’t help that her apiarist father cares for two hives on the roof of their apartment building. Wanting to appear brave, Kaia brags to other kids as though she were the building’s beekeeper until an actual passing bee lands on her arm, sending her into a state of panic — and exposing her to her peers: “‘You’re a liar!’ Marcella says.” This embarrassing situation jumpstarts Kaia’s courage, and she asks her dad to let her help with the bees. A subsequent sting and Kaia’s feelings about it drive home the points that being brave is hard work and that overcoming a very deep fear takes time. Warm mixed-media cartoon illustrations depict a loving (biracial) family in a cozy urban home where greenery flourishes both inside and out. Bold outlines convey Kaia’s large emotions, while the narrative intersperses basic facts about the lives and work of honeybees. Though Kaia’s bee sting was scary but not, for her, life-threatening, a note on the copyright page reminds people to “seek immediate emergency treatment if unusual or severe symptoms develop.” JULIE ROACH

A Stopwatch from Grampa
by Loretta Garbutt; illus. by Carmen Mok
Primary    Kids Can    40 pp.
4/20    978-1-5253-0144-5    $17.99

“When summer started, I got Grampa’s stopwatch. I don’t want his stopwatch. I want him.” The accompanying illustration shows a child sitting all alone on a porch swing, bereft. We next see scenes from the past in illustrations set like snapshots on the page; these depict the child and Grampa’s close relationship as they enjoy their mutual love of timing things with the stopwatch: how long it takes to eat three oatmeal cookies, or bubblegum ice cream (and how many seconds the subsequent brain freeze lasts); how long it takes for the child to race to the end of the street and back, or for a caterpillar to crawl up the child’s leg. Now, without Grampa, the youngster is angry (drawing harshly scribbled pictures of monsters) and depressed (losing interest in ordinary activities). The watch is thrown into a drawer and forgotten. Time passes, and one day the child finds the stopwatch and begins timing things again. “The watch…makes me think of all the things we used to time together. Remembering him feels good…Like he is still here with me.” Without being the least bit didactic, the book takes readers through the stages of grief — and in a heart-tugging ending, the protagonist moves forward in the healing process to introduce someone new, a younger sibling, to the pleasures of using Grampa’s stopwatch. Details in both the text and the child-friendly, digitally produced art (including the empathetic, loyal family dog and homemade — by Dad — heart-shaped cookies) are perfectly pitched for the audience. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

Where’s Baby?
by Anne Hunter; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Tundra    40 pp.
1/20    978-0-7352-6498-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-7352-6499-1    $10.99

“Have you seen Baby, Mama Fox?” Mama Fox feels certain Baby is “somewhere,” and so Papa Fox begins the search, like a game of hide-and-seek. “Ba-by! Are you indoors? Maybe Baby went out.” Fine lines and crosshatching done with ballpoint pen and colored pencil accentuate patterns and detail while small pops of orange in the pale settings allow readers — unlike Papa — to keep up with Baby. Baby follows behind Papa throughout, with the little fox’s entertaining expressions anticipating potential tension as Papa bumbles into amusing or even precarious situations. Papa sticks his head in an old log and finds an annoyed skunk instead of Baby. Papa dips his head in the water and finds an ominous sharp-toothed fish rather than Baby (the animals’ refrain: “I am not your baby”). By the end, Mama kindly suggests Papa try looking behind him. Savvy readers will have noted that Mama Fox and Baby exchanged a wave before this adventure commenced and that everyone was one up on Papa Fox all along. Baby’s final question — “Hi Papa! Can we do that again?” — calls for repeated readings and, fittingly, the endpapers suggest that keeping up with Baby will be a recurring challenge. JULIE ROACH

From the June 2020 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

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