5 lovely Father's Day books for new dads

Why do so few children's books give equal billing to dads? Here are five great choices that do.

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    In "Only My Dad and Me" a rabbit father and his son enjoy special activities together during each of the four seasons.
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Thinking of books for a Father’s Day gift? It may seem early, but if you’re buying for a new dad, the search may take extra time. Oh, there are some great reads that show new fatherhood in all its exhausting, heartwarming, grimly funny reality.

(Even 4 a.m. feedings can be entertaining if you’re reading "The Poo Bomb" by Jeff Vogel, and I’m a great fan of "Hungry Monkey" by Matthew Amster-Burton. In new releases, Keith Dixon’s “Cooking for Gracie” will nourish the soul as well as the stomach.)

But when it comes to the books dads might read with children, the fathers often get short-changed. It’s the moms who are depicted in picture books as the loving, constant, central figures of children’s lives, while too often the father who reads to his babies and toddlers winds up with stories celebrating the relationship between kids and their mothers. Just think of Max in “Where The Wild Things Are,” who wants to be home, where someone – that’s mom – loves him best of all. Or think of the reassuring parent in “The Runaway Bunny,” who will always follow her little one no matter where he goes.

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When my husband first noted the disparity in our son’s bedtime books, I started searching for great reads that gave equal billing to dads. Fortunately, there are some lovely ones out there – some in print, some now only available used. Here are some of our favorites (#2 and #4 have mom versions as well). Have any to add for Father’s Day – and all the other nights of bedtime books?

1. "Daddy Is a Doodlebug" by Bruce Degen: A loving, rhyming, ode to an old-fashioned dad and son (they’re both bugs, but that just adds to the fun) who draw together, play in the park, and read stories. Sitting in a diner, the bug son explains how “We are soup with noodle bugs/We are apple strudel bugs.” At bedtime, it’s “sweet bug dreams and goodlebug night!” Degen is better known for the classic “Jamberry” and for his illustrations in the Magic School Bus books, but this sweet story deserves similar status.

2. "Only My Dad and Me" by Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Tiphanie Beeke (this time, bunnies) enjoy the seasons together, with a special activity for each. (“We sled oh so fast/Cheering “Winter, at last!”/When it’s only my dad and me.”) Our own little bunny loved the charming watercolors on the book’s fold-out pages. (The book was rewritten and reillustrated in a later edition).

3. “Knuffle Bunny” by Mo Willems: Yes, more bunnies – but the main characters in this bestseller are human beings; toddler Trixie, her mommy, and her daddy. While both parents make appearances in the book, dad is the hardworking hero, taking Trixie on an outing to the Laundromat and then saving the day after he unexpectedly ruins it by leaving Trixie’s beloved Knuffle Bunny doll behind. For a bonus gift, get the two sequels, "Knuffle Bunny Too" and "Knuffle Bunny Free," because few dads could hold back tears after reading the note Willems writes to his own daughter, the real-life Trixie, at the back of the final volume.

4. “Daddy Kisses” by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben: On each page, we see different daddy animals kissing their children in a different way (a nuzzle on the ear, a lick on the nose, and so on). It only takes a minute to read, but that’s good for the average baby’s attention span – and it ends with the human father giving his own baby a joyful snuggle.

5. "Ten Nine Eight" by Molly Bang: An endearing countdown to bedtime, from “ten small toes all washed and warm” to “one big girl all ready for bed.” The artwork and simple text focuses on the child, not the parent, but it’s clearly a father getting his daughter ready in their own cozy house. It feels even nicer to have the dad’s presence seem as natural as it is in our own home, rather than called out as a special event.

Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at eatallaboutit.com

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