On sentiments and fathers

I am one of those readers who does not particularly appreciate books about sentiments. When I read a story to a child, I want it to be a story… not a eulogy about how much I love the child or how special he is. While I can readily admit that certain “sentiment books” can be well written and nicely illustrated, I tend to find the genre itself to be saccharine and contrived. Children don’t– or at least shouldn’t– need books to feel like they are special in your eyes, or that they are loved. One book on which I stand against the crowd is the very popular Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Do note that for the sake of charity, I do NOT link books that I myself would not buy.) This is one of those books that is on a ton of bookshelves across America, whether or not the parents are bibliozealots or not. It is the only children’s book I’ve ever seen on Amazon that has over 1000 (by and large positive) reviews. I’m not sure what it is about it. People just seem to love the message of this book: mom loves little boy unconditionally as he grows up. The final moments are when the tables get turned and the boy (now a full sized man) is holding his elderly mother in the rocking chair. So not only is there a lack of a real plot, I also struggle with one of the pages in particular. The mother, at one point, crawls up a ladder to her grown man son’s bedroom to hold and love him while he is sleeping. I find this rather creepy. There are other sentiment books that I don’t particularly like either. I do however have more tolerance for books which at least have some interesting elements to add to the story, as is the case in The Runaway Bunny where at least the illustrations are fun and imaginative.

So with Father’s Day just around the corner, it would be easy to find a few sappy ‘I Love Daddy” books to recommend that fall into the sentimental category. Instead, let’s discuss a few books that have good fatherly messages or figures without being quite so overt about it.

Anatole and the Toyshop by Eve Titus. I’m always willing to give a plug to the Anatole books; we love him around here. And in this particular story, Anatole gets to shine as the hero who saves his family from a tyrranical shop owner. Family is the ends; courage is the means.
Pop’s Bridge by C.F. Payne gets double points for being based on history. (I love that.) In this book a boy admires his hardworking dad as he helps to build the Golden Gate Bridge. The sacrifices of men are noted and laborers of all kinds are celebrated in the end. Kids today don’t often get to see their fathers doing meaningful work. Back in the pioneer days, children worked alongside fathers out in the fields or in the stables. Since the industrial revolution, the actual sight of men at work is removed from most kids. So when dad gets home, often all they see is him lazing about on the couch or glued in front of a T.V. or somesuch. Not exactly images that inspire virtues of strength, commitment, sacrifice and integrity in young people. (Now this is a topic for another time, another blog… but while I have you reading here, if you’d like to explore this idea further see the excellent, short book Successful Fathers: The Subtle but Powerful Ways Fathers Mold Their Children’s Characters.)
Papa Piccolo by Carol Talley was mentioned before in a thrifting thread. It’s been a good addition to our home library. Piccolo becomes a reluctant adoptive father to two spritely little kittens. After spending a lot of time trying to dodge them; their disappearance causes him concern and he finally embraces his role as papa and teacher. I suspect I’ll be mentioning this one last time in a future post when I write about my favorite books to use as curriculum units. (The glories of Venice are in top form here.)
If: A Father’s Advice to his Son. Now I’m breaking all the rules on this one. Not only is this a “sentiment book” of sorts, and it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with fathers specifically, it’s a book I’ve not even SEEN in real life yet! I stumbled on it one day on Amazon.com. This is the famous poem by Rudyard Kipling (whose pedigree speaks for itself) illustrated with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr. I am a tremendous fan of this poem. It will be one of the longer poems my boys are forced to memorize and I hope its message sticks with them. If you’re not familiar with “If”, I’ll post it here for your good pleasure. Drink it up, then force the koolaid on your kids too. As it is, I just found out that it’s in our library system so I’ve just put a hold on it for further perusal.

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!