Becky Levine (beckylevine) wrote,
Becky Levine

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Fictional Fathers

Last week, Susan Taylor Brown announced that she's hosting the Carnival of Children's Literature this month. Her theme, appropriately enough, is fathers: "Think about a father in a children's book that made an impression on you in one way or another."

Now, of course, this sent me pushing my chair away from my desk to scan the books lining the shelves behind me. The plan: I'd read the titles, dip my memory back into the stories, and find the perfect father/book to blog about.

Except it didn't work this way.

Apparently, I don't read about fathers. This strikes me as odd, since I have a wonderful father (and a wonderful mother--hi, guys!). I'm also married to a man who is a fantastic father to our son. 

So it's certainly not that I don't like the species. 

I ran through the books again. I checked my son's shelves. And I kept coming up empty. Not totally empty, of course. I have Susan's own Hugging the Rock, with a father who is just what the title says—a layered, evolving, deftly developed rock.  Other than this story, though, only two specific father characters really jumped into my mind. 

The first was the totally cool, so-strong dad in Zizou Corder's wonderful Lionboy series. But, honestly, he doesn't have a huge role in the story--he's more of a reassuring presence to the reader, who knows that the dad is doing everything he can to get back and rescue/help his son. The son, though, while he believes this, doesn't know it, and he pretty much has to rely on himself for most of the adventure.

The other father that I remembered was the dad in the Joey Pigza books and, frankly, realistic as he may be, that character fills me with so much anger and contempt and frustration that I just didn't want to spend a whole post talking about him. (Yes, great, brilliant writing by Jack Gantos, but not really the note I had planned to strike for a father's day blog.

Denial? Ostrich-vision? Maybe. I got to wondering whether this feeling has something to do with why I don't have any books about fathers (or mothers, frankly) on my shelves. I've talked before about how often I read for escape. Books are, for me, a way to shake off the stress and business of a day--a way to go somewhere fun or funny for a while. I do read, and value, books about real people, real problems. But it takes an extra effort for me to open the cover and step in. I have one on my nightstand now that I really, really want to read--I've heard nothing but wonderful responses to it, and I opened it to the first page and was instantly hooked. I will read it and, hopefully, review it here.

But it doesn't leap from the stack into my hand, when I'm tired and want to curl up and relax. It won't necessarily be a book I want to read over and over, when I need a good laugh or a happy evening read.

Sometimes, yes, I wonder--does this make me a shallow reader, even a shallow person? Believe me, I've done my "time," reading Victorian novels for three years straight in college and graduate school--and loving 99.9% of them. And when I read a brilliantly written, serious book (like I'm expecting the one on my nightstand to be), I am blown away with awe at the writer's talent and emotional bravery.

And yet, just about all of the dads on my shelf are background figures. Many are dark-humored caricatures, like the father in Mathilda, or they're sort of hearty, get-out-there-and-take-on-the-world figures, like the father in Swallows and Amazons who sends the following telegram giving permission for his young children to sail on their own: "BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON'T DROWN."

In lighter stories, children go on adventures—they step into fantasy or sci-fi worlds, or go on mythic journeys. And, for these kinds of adventures, a father and, maybe even more, a mother are, either impediments or simply extraneous. In these kinds of books, these characters are necessarily flat—fully developed they would become a distraction, or add a level of seriousness that would be misplaced.

The interesting thing is that both of the books I am writing do have a father character. Neither is, by any means, the most important character, but each does, I think, have a place in the story. These fathers do impact the MC and make a difference in his or her quest.

A theory? A conclusion? I don't think I have one. I'm pretty sure I'll go on as I have been, stretching myself to read the multi-layered, more serious books, but also truly needing (like chocolate and tea) the light, fast, entertaining ones. I do believe that both styles can be equally well-written and that children should have both types in their reading lives.

Thanks, Susan, for a great theme. I look forward to reading the Carnival and, I'm sure, adding some great father books to my to-be-read pile!

Side note:  If you're looking for the winners of my latest blog contest, scootch right over here and see if you're one of them!

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