What My Kids’ Books Have Taught Me About Being a Dad

by Ross Ritchell

Parenting is a beautiful chaos you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve realized that the bathroom has become your beacon of hope. What used to be a place for unsightly business is now a brief spa retreat for your sanity; it’s close enough to the screaming toddlers to know when their yells change from temper tantrums to life-threatening conditions, yet the closed door provides a nice buffer between you and your child’s cute little toys that quickly morph into skin-splitting projectiles.

My name is Ross and, as a parent, I use the bathroom to hide and cry.

There’s no shame in admitting this. In fact, it’s the first step to realizing that parenting is not a pursuit for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. Oh, you like sleeping? Well, enjoy a quarter of your past totals and consider it a gift! Oh, you’re not a worrier? Ha! In your childless life, did you ever need to keep your windows locked in the summer, yell at fast drivers on the street, and start avoiding the old friends you thought might be fun, crazy uncles? So you’d like to lose some weight? You’re actually in luck — your kids steal all your food!

But it’s beyond worth it. Parenting is the most beautifully indescribable sense of love and devotion a person can experience in their life. It’s science. (Don’t trust me on that, maybe look into it for yourself.) I’ve jumped out of airplanes, fast-roped out of helicopters, and been lucky enough to publish a book, yet there is simply no accomplishment or adrenaline rush that matches your child calling you “Dad,” holding your hand, or finding your shoulder to hide behind when they’re nervous or scared.

Children are innocent and full of wonder. We just went to a holiday parade and my son couldn’t stop pointing and smiling at a life-size gingerbread man dancing on the street, and he’s never even seen or tasted that species of cookie! Meanwhile, my infant daughter was cinched to my wife’s chest with thirty-five protective straps and belts, and the little tyke thought everything was perfect, even though she doesn’t know what anything is yet!

We read so many books in our house because my wife and I love to see their imaginations at work and making new connections. (Plus book time is the only time they keep still.) I’ve found that these five books offer children — and their fathers — some very worthwhile life lessons … because, let’s face it, mothers already know it all.

  • 1. Be there for them, no matter what!

  • Rory the Dinosaur: Me and My Dad

    by Liz Climo

    Young Rory is your average dinosaur who just wants to have adventures, but his dad is too busy to go along. (Or is he?! No. He comes along, unbeknownst to Rory.) When Rory heads out into the big, bad world on his own, his dad tags along to help Rory cross treacherous rivers and fight off wild pigs, all the while being nice enough to stay out of sight to properly inflate Rory’s confidence. The takeaway here is that our kids are brilliant and brave and boundless balls of energy, but they’re still just pint-sized humans. They need us!

  • 2. You will love your children more than they can comprehend.

  • Guess How Much I Love You

    by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

    A classic. Little Nutbrown Hare takes it upon himself to let his Big know how much he’s loved, and in the process, Big Nutbrown Hare has to simultaneously one-up Little while still reiterating that no one can love him more than his Pa. If the last line in this one doesn’t call up the waterworks, your soul’s in a drought.

  • 3. To get things done, make it fun!

  • The Pigeon Needs a Bath!

    by Mo Willems

    Available from:

    Holy cow, does this pigeon stink! Pigeon refuses to accept rationality, even though it would be better for him, you, and the whole world if he did. Sound familiar? Yep, the pigeon in this one represents all our little ones — you tell them what needs to be done but are fought tooth-and-nail every step of the way. Naturally, Pigeon eventually takes a bath and ends up loving it. The Pigeon Needs a Bath! will get a laugh before bed, but should also earn the little ones some extra bath time — they’ll love it, explore endlessly, and then really be ready for bed.

    Also available from:
  • 4. No matter our differences, we all need love.

  • Big Hugs, Little Hugs

    by Felicia Bond

    Available from:

    This book is full of endless animals of all shapes and sizes hugging each other and spreading general merriment the world over. The illustrations are beautiful and your child is sure to point out some animal favorites, if not find some new ones. However, I like Big Hugs, Little Hugs because it shows your kids that no matter who you are, we all need and deserve love. It’s never too early to get your kids seeing the similarities we share with others, not just the differences.

    Also available from:
  • 5. Sharing makes everyone happy!

  • Found

    by Salina Yoon

    Bear finds his new best friend, Bunny the stuffed animal, in the forest, but Bear is worried Bunny has lost his family. As Bear searches for Bunny’s owner, the two of them enjoy each other’s company immensely. Soon enough Moose comes along, Bunny’s rightful owner, and Bear is sad to see his friend Bunny go … but wait! Moose realizes it’s important to share and give joy to others, so Bear and Bunny live happily ever after as best friends. Life lesson (and sharing-practice) gold.