Monday 17 June 2024

Picture Books To Celebrate Fatherhood All Year Round - Garry Parsons

One of my favourite depictions of fatherhood is the moment Geppetto lifts Pinocchio off the floor and joyfully whirls him around the room at the end of the Disney movie. This is the very last scene in the movie where distraught Geppetto is sobbing on the bed and all looks lost. But when he lifts his head to see who’s talking he realises that Pinocchio is not only alive after the ordeal with the whale but has magically been transformed into a real boy. 


Pinocchio - Disney 1940

I’m sure we’d all agree that Geppetto’s parenting skills in the movie require some attention but what I love about that final scene is the overwhelming sense of joy Geppetto has at being a father and the relief he has to be reunited with his son.  You can watch the scene on youtube here.

Like Geppetto, no one is perfect at being a parent and nor would we want to be, but Dads in picture books often seem to get a raw deal. Dads are often depicted as caricatures of dads, preoccupied with tasks in the shed, washing the car or tinkering under the bonnet. Sometimes unkempt or dishevelled, they can appear absent minded, aloof or uncaring, preferring to fix things than parent directly. 

Dads generally appear less in picture books than mums too and are more likely to play background roles. There are certainly more mums in picture books than dads but that is probably a fair representation of who is taking on most of the full time parenting today, particularly with books for younger children. Dads in picture books can be on the periphery of family life or simply absent from the story altogether, but that might also be a reflection on the world we live in too. 

From Lawrence in the Fall by Matthew Farina & Doug Salati

So it’s heart-warming to see Dad characters coming to the fore in picture books. Dads who care and parent from a place of nurture (“Lawrence in the Fall”) and dads who are gentle and willing to listen (“Jabari Jumps”) And dads who are keen to impart wisdom and help their children grow. 

What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers 

As it is Father’s Day this weekend we have good reason to delve back into the book shelf and pull out some old favourites too. 

Don’t Let Go! By Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross.


I’ve picked out a few picture books with strong father figure characters who, I feel, have a lot to give and that you might enjoy too.

 Lawrence and his Papa go searching in the woods to collect things to show in school. Papa gently departs his knowledge of the forest and his wisdom of how the world works. In a moment when they become separated, Lawrence discovers a forest secret of his own. A tender story of the bond between father and son where the characters express clear emotion, beautifully illustrated scenes and characters that capture the tenderness and wild elements of the landscape.

What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers is a story of a father and daughter setting out plans for their life together, building memories and a home to keep them safe. A moving story of love and protection.


A story about courage and gentle parental encouragement. Jabari has made his mind up that he is going to take a leap from the diving board but it's high and a little scary but he has his dad with him for support.


Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig is a firm favourite in our house and never ceases to bring a smile. It's raining outside and Pete can't go outside to play. Pete's attentive dad decides to make him into a pizza instead and bake him on the sofa. A funny and warm story around the kindness of a tuned-in dad with paired-down but spot-on illustrations.

A Brave Bear is a contemplative story of gentle parenting and attentive awareness. Dad has to navigate encouragement and some sulking when his son has ambitions of jumping big and grazes his knee in the wilds of the forest. Beautiful, textured illustrations from Emily Hughes.

Another enduring favourite in our house is Don’t Let Go! By Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross. A little girl wants to visit her daddy but to do that she needs his help to learn to ride her bike. "Daddy, I'm here, I won't let go. Not until you say. Hold on tight. I love you, so - We'll do this together...OK?"  Prepare to be moved by this affectionate father and daughter relationship.


Great for younger readers, My Daddy is a Giant is a simple celebration of a father with Indrid Godon's uniquely wonderful illustrations.

Dad is competently in charge, doing some chores and caring for his daughter Trixie at the same time and doing a fine job of it until it all goes wrong at the laundromat. When you're attention is focused on your toddler be prepared to make mistakes!

Stereotypically manly men are shown in emotional or scary moments in Tough Guys (Have Feeling Too) by Keith Negly. Evertone has feelings, unless you are a robot!


And to return to Geppetto and his son, Pinocchio by Pinocchio, retold by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark

As ever, please use the comments section to recommend your favourites and let’s celebrate the fully formed Dad in picture books all year round.  Happy Fathers Day!


Garry Parsons is an award winning illustrator of children’s books and father to two boys. 

Garry is the illustrator of My Daddies! By Gareth Peter. 



1 comment:

Pippa Goodhart said...

Good to focus on dads! The picture book that immediately comes to my mind is Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth. There's a tender, patient, imaginative and kind daddy in action when Little Bear has trouble getting to sleep.