When you’re lying there in bed with your kids, reading Green Eggs & Ham, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Where is the father? Because if he were around, Sam-I-Am would be mounted above the fireplace instead of trying to poison that kid with tainted meat.”
You could probably use a few more positive dad stories on the bookshelf — and not just because Father’s Day is coming up. All too often you get stuck reading about Mama Llama, Mother Goose, or that Old Lady, who is constantly whispering hush. Here are 11 books starring proud papas that you can read aloud to those things which made you a dad in the first place.
My Dad Used To Be So Cool
There was a time before you had kids where you did stuff like get piercings and tattoos. You rode motorcycles. You ate meals without being interrupted. Things. Were. Crazy. In this book, the son of a formerly cool dad has a hard time believing his father used to be a punk rocker. He sees evidence of it around the house, like a drum kit shoved into a closet, and the fact the other guys on the playground don’t have full sleeve tattoos. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if you wear socks with sandals, because if your kid thinks that you’re cool, then you’re cool. It’s everyone else that thinks you’re a giant dork.
Ages: 3 – 5
My Dad Used To Be So Cool by Keith Negley ($18)
Papa’s Mechanical Fish
No discussion of little-known, hard-to-believe-they’re-real 19th century inventors is complete without mentioning Lodner Phillips, whose eccentric life inspired this tale of a bumbling inventor who builds his greatest creation thanks to his inquisitive daughter. The real Philips designed early submarines and tested them by taking his family picnicking under Lake Michigan. Most of his inventions were never produced, nor was a Disney movie about his life; only one of those things seems reasonable.
Ages: 4 – 8
Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming and Boris Kulikov ($13)
I Will Fight Monsters For You
The debut from author Santi Balmes and illustrator Lyona tells the stories of two little girls — a human named Martina and a monster named Anitram (get it?!) — who both can’t sleep for fear of the creatures living under their beds. Their narratives parallel each other’s in both words and pictures; many of the illustrations are reflections of the girls’ worlds that can only be read by physically turning the book upside down. In the end, a magical, dream-world meeting and their hero dads (because, obviously, hero dads) help Martina and Anitram realize there’s no reason to fear things just because they’re different. So, the good news is your kid will realize you’re not scared of monsters; the bad news is that you were wrong about there not being a monster under the bed.
Ages: 4 – 7
I Will Fight Monsters For You by Santi Balmes and Lyona ($14)
The son of a country junkman who builds scrap metal sculptures on his lawn (and whose brother is Andy Warhol), James Warhola recalls a hilarious family visit to “Uncle Andy’s.” Warhol’s New York pad also houses his mother, 25 cats named “Sam,” and a heap of clutter, which annoys James’ mother until she realizes art is everywhere, and anything can be art. Let this book show your kid that while you may be king for a day on Father’s Day, all of the weirdo men in your family also deserve some recognition.
Ages: 5 – 9
Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola ($6)
All The Way To America
Author Dan Yaccarino begins his family history by introducing his great grandfather as he arrives at Ellis island with nothing but some parental well-wishes for the ages — “Work hard, but remember to enjoy life, and never forget your family.” — and a little shovel. Four generations later, the author abides and his kids are still shoveling away. (Artisanally grown fruits and vegetables on a New York City terrace, naturally.)
Ages: 5 – 9
All The Way To America by Dan Yaccarino ($15)
A bully named Jeremy Ross moves into the neighborhood and forces the narrator to craft his first “Enemies List.” Summer is ruined until dad comes up with the perfect plan: “Enemy Pie.” The one catch: no dessert until you’ve spent a full day with your enemy, which teaches the ultimate lesson in making friends. That’s predictable, but at least it doesn’t end the same way as Cartman’s “Enemy Chili.”
Ages: 5 – 8
Enemy Pie by Derek Munson and Tara Calahan King ($9)
Because I’m Your Dad
Listen, if your dad was Frank Zappa, you would have a unique perspective on the whole parenting thing, too. Ahmet Zappa and award-winning illustrator Dan Santat shows a monster father talking to his monster son about why he’s such a fun-loving guy. Cool name? Check. Ice cream for dinner? Check. Skipping school to go to Australia? It’s not advisable during the school year but … what the hell! Zappa wrote this book as a tribute to his daughter, but the ending is an obvious nod to his late father, who was anything but a conventional dad.
Ages: 1 – 5
Because I’m Your Dad by Ahmet Zappa and Dan Santat ($16)
How To Cheer Up Dad
You’re not perfect. Occasionally you will cut a waffle the wrong way. You will turn on a light switch your kid didn’t want you to. You will give them the wrong color cup of milk. These are the kinds of hard lessons that one elephant, Jumbo, Sr., is being pilloried for by his Little Jumbo. Fortunately, LJ stops being a dick about things and starts repaying the patience, kindness, and effort of his father. You can point to you kid that while doing nice things for you is wonderful, going to sleep would be the thing that would really cheer you up.
How To Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler ($18)
Tad And Dad
Tad wants to be just like his frog father: A great swimmer; a prodigious leaper; and he can eat flies like a champ. The trouble is that because Tad wants to spend every waking minute with his father, he also wants to spend every asleep minute sleeping next to him. As you know, lily pads aren’t designed for co-sleeping, so the dad spends all night being kicked awake by his son’s restless frog leg syndrome. If you have a preschooler, you can relate. Sure you want them to cuddle with you, but not at the expense of sleep. Oh, and you may want to curb that fly-eating before they go off to public school.
Ages: 3 – 5
Tad And Dad by David Ezra Stein ($17)
Ben wants a beard because all the coolest guys (and one old woman) in town have beards. The butcher, the banker, the barber — some crazy hipster riding a fixie. The biggest hurdle is that Ben hasn’t reached puberty yet. As he discovers, it’s nothing that a permanent market can’t fix. This book is a good jumping off point to explain to your son that men don’t grow beards because they look cool or virile, but because shaving is a huge pain in the ass that you will have to commit to every morning for the rest of your natural life.
Ages: 3 – 5
Beard Boy by John Flannery and Steven Weinberg ($17)
My Daddy Snores
You may not know that you’re snorer, but your family sure as shit does. While kids can sleep through anything, and your wife has learned to chase earplugs with a handful of Tylenol PM, this story may guilt you into doing something about that terrifying buzzsaw you call breathing. This story at least lets your kids have a good laugh before the sleep apnea intervention. Because if you’ve ever seen someone hooked up to a CPAP machine, you know that is a terrifying look.
Ages: 4 – 8
My Daddy Snores by Nancy Rothstein and Stephen Gilpin (Available Used)