My Dad is the Best Playground, written and illustrated by Luciana Navarro Powell

books-dadFirst things first, I love the illustrations in this book.  They are all soft colours and lines, wonderfully delicate and also evocative.  Before looking up the illustrator, I hazarded a guess that they were watercolour with pencil or computer-rendered details.  And guess what – I was right!  (I love being right, don’t you?).

According to Powell’s website, she works in mixed media, using watercolours but also a “digital brush”.  She’s originally a painter, and I think that the painter’s touch still shows in her illustrations.  Dad and kids are all wide-mouthed toothless laughter, playing, playing, playing energetically on each page: swinging, climbing, monkey bars, tunnel, seesaw, dad does it all and with only one tiny puff of exhaustion (when the kids are bouncing off of his stomach).  Baby and dad have gotten lots of great playtime ideas from this book (and some not-so-great ones).  And, at the end, dad picks up the kids in his arms and tucks them into bed gently and sweetly: “as comforting as a snuggle or a story that we’ve read/as bright as the starts before a gentle ride to bed.”

Awwwwwww.  Excuse me, while I wipe a tear from my misty eye.

So where is mom?  Goodness knows – she could having a night out with friends, eating bonbons in her boudoir, going on a date while it’s dad weekend with the kids…the real-life possibilities are endless.  But, for Powell’s family, it seems most likely that mom is in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner.

It’s very interesting how these insidious stereotypes can express themselves so innocently and without intent.

When I first read the book, I assumed that dad was home from work taking the kids through play and bedtime while mom cleaned up and relaxed elsewhere.  I had to stop and ask myself if this is because I grew up in a traditional household, and subconsciously expect the same in the books I read.  But once I took a closer look at the illustrations, I saw the hints that had helped to push me to my conclusion re: mom’s role in this little nuclear family.  Dad is still wearing his tie and shoes when playtime begins; the kids are already in their pajamas as they run to him when he bursts through the door; play-time takes place without the usual messy preliminaries of dinner, bath, brushing teeth, and so on – that work has all been done, and not by dad.  Exactly how my childhood evenings used to play out, and not at all what I want my kid to expect from his parents.  Since then, I’ve mentally hmphed my way through this book when the baby pulls it from the box to read.  Daddy play-time indeed!  What about MOMMY play time?!

I guess it’s always possible that Dad 2 is in the kitchen cleaning up and relaxing while Dad 1 does playtime and bedtimes.  So I shall be more generous to the writer and chastise myself for having stereotypes stamped into my own brain.

Reading Ages: Say, 1-2 years.  It’s a sweet book, but I don’t think there is enough action or humour in it to capture older kids the way that, say, The Gruffalo or The Very Cranky Bear do (these last two have reliably entertained the pack of neighbourhood kids (1,2,4 and 5) several times over…I should probably review them).

Rating: B+ for the illustrations, B for the story.

Mom Books by Powell:  There is a parallel book, My Mom is the Best Circus – which I haven’t read so I can’t confirm or deny if it supports parent stereotypes.  But the title is extra funny to me, because that is exactly how a friend of mine described being a stay-at-home-mom to two kids under three.

Other Stuff by Luciana Navarro Powell: I browsed her site and have come up with a few favourites, namely the cuddle cuddle pet monster, with his fuzzy body, happy smile, and engulfing arms and the spiky porcupine from Spatter and Spark, whose quills that somehow look like they are about to pop off the page.

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