Our Favorite Picture Book Dads of 2015

by Tom Burns

Image credits: The Night Our Parents Went Out by Katie Goodman and Soren Kisiel, illustrated by Cat-tuong Bui; Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith; Zombie in Love 2+1 by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell; Ask Me by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee

When I read a picture book with my daughter — usually in bed, after an achingly precise number of read-aloud books have been negotiated and agreed upon — I’m always keeping an eye out for moments that speak to us. Even though most of our picture books are filled with fantastic landscapes and misbehaving pigeons, the good ones, the really good ones, always have brief moments or emotions that make the reader say, “Ah, this feels familiar. I know THIS.”

As a dad, when I’m reading picture books, I’m also always on the lookout for other dads. The dad doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character or a significant plot point. They don’t even need a name. They just need to be present and acting like a dad — not like a sitcom dad or a cliché of a dad, but a REAL dad, with humanity and flaws and everything else a real dad has. So, from my incredibly biased perspective, here are some of my favorite fathers that I encountered in picture books this past year.

  • Ask Me

    by Bernard Waber, illustrated by Suzy Lee

    A dad and his daughter hold hands during a walk in autumn as the daughter asks a series of questions about the world around them. Sounds like a simple story, right? Hardly. This is one of the few picture books in recent memory that moved me to tears. Not because it’s sad (it’s not), but rather because it is so authentic that it made my heart hurt. It made me long for the days when my daughter and I would go for long, rambling hikes and talk about everything and nothing for the entire day. A beautiful book.

  • Zombie in Love 2 + 1

    by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell

    While this is a bit more fantastic/horrific than Ask Me, it still hilariously speaks to many of the fundamental fears and anxieties that hit all new parents. The undead couple Mortimer and Mildred have a new baby and can’t believe how well-behaved he is. And that worries them because they’re zombies and they’re used to shrieking, moaning, and gnashing of teeth. Campbell’s illustrations do a fantastic job of selling Mortimer’s joy and simmering panic as a new dad struggling to understand his new son.

  • Sidewalk Flowers

    by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith

    This picture book has a similar premise to Ask Me, but approaches the experience through a vastly different perspective. Without using any words, Lawson and Smith show us a father and daughter walking together through the city. However, this dad is distracted, hardly paying any attention to his child as she collects flowers throughout their walk, kindly passing out lovely bouquets to those she passes. What I like about this story, from a dad’s perspective, is that it reminds me of the importance of staying engaged. I’m often a lot like this dad, so caught up in my own agenda that I’m missing the quiet moments of beauty and grace along the way. I sympathize with this dad, and I think Lawson and Smith do a brilliant job of showing this dad — and all dads — what it means to be present when you’re with your children.

  • Your Baby's First Word Will Be DADA

    by Jimmy Fallon, illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez

    We’ve all done it. We’ve ALL done it. The moment your family realizes that your baby has finally discovered their voice, everyone starts their own delightfully passive-aggressive campaign to make your baby say their name FIRST. “Gramma… Mama… DADA.” This quick, fun read-aloud from the host of “The Tonight Show” does a great job of mining laughs for younger readers out of a very universal experience — even as Ordóñez plays up that universality by showing us a cavalcade of animals that all want their kids, cubs, calves, whatever to say “DADA” first too.

Who was your favorite parent in a picture book in 2015? Notice any really rocking moms or ultra-cool dads? Let us know in the comments below?