Mighty Dads is illustrated by James Dean, of Pete the Cat fame, which made this book a favorite with Frances and Gloria. But I knew that this book would be a perfect match for a father/son pair who are very dear to me. Since the son is making his blog debut here, he'll need an alias, just like the girls have. The post where I talk about why I chose their aliases is here, and many of the reasons I chose those names are still true today, more than three years later. And if you know Russell Hoban' books, you will know that Frances has a best friend named Albert. Perfect for our young friend, who I will now refer to as Albert. My Albert turns four in two weeks. He is full of imagination and chatter, and is blessedly flexible about playing with any and all of the girls' toys. He is also a big library fan, and whenever we go, Albert requests books about diggers, cranes, dump trucks, and construction sites. Albert is sweet, loving, funny and all boy in his fascination with construction equipment. Frances and Gloria never cared very much about those sorts of vehicles, so it's fun to learn new facts about them as Albert does.
Each construction vehicle father in this story takes their child to work with them. On each two page spread, the father teaches the child how to do the job they'll share. "Bulldozer Strong shows Dozy right from wrong. They go roar, roar, roar!" The simple text (just two sentences per spread) is rhythmic and easy to predict. Listeners will enjoy chiming in with the sound that vehicle makes. I can imagine a storytime getting progressively louder with each repetition. It might also be fun to make the story more physical, acting out the various jobs. The cranes reach, the cement mixer and his child go spin, spin, pour. There are all sorts of applications for this story.
Another thing I love about this book is the way the fathers engage with the younger vehicles. They are guiding their children through the routines of their everyday jobs, but they also are there to protect and support their children. The text in the beginning of the book states that Mighty Dads "keep them safe and bolted tight and show them how to build things right." That emphasis on doing their job correctly is referred to throughout the book. These dads take pride in what they do for a job, in doing it well, and teaching their children to do the job successfully also. And they don't neglect the fun, either. "Dump Truck Sturdy teaches Dumpy to get dirty." Isn't that the best part of a construction zone? There are so many opportunities to do a dirty day's work.
While the fathers exhibit patience, strength and pride, the young vehicles show their energy and enthusiasm. They want to be 'just like Dad'. Each of the little vehicles looks just like a mini version of their father. While they are trying to do their father's work, the younger versions always produce just a little less than their dads. Junior Crane has to work on hauling girders on the shorter side of the building; his dad, Crane Long Arm, is delivering beam on the taller side. Same with the dump trucks - Dumpy's pile of dirt is dwarfed by what his father has delivered. But the child's contribution is just as worthy. I love the nicknames Holub has created for the equipment too - there's Boom Truck Tall and Boomer, Excavator Big and Vator (I sort of wish this father/child pair were dressed all in black to give off the Darth Vader vibe). The nicknames keep each family related, but also keeps the personalities distinct.
Dean's illustrations are a perfect match for this story. The backgrounds are simple and bright, keeping the focus on the equipment and their actions. On the excavator page, there is a huge swath of blue sky framing the bright orange excavators. The excavator pair balances on the brown dirt, their scoops digging out the earth below. It helps create a sense of perspective for the reader, too. Excavator Big fills most of one side of the spread, while little Vator is even smaller than the adjoining text.
The most winning part of the illustrations are Dean's trademark faces incorporated into the vehicle windows. There is so much personality embued just by the slant of a large eye. The crane's long arm resembles a pointy nose because of the eye placement. Looking at the father-child pairs is so much fun. The solid primary colors from the backgrounds continue on to the vehicles themselves. It gives a sense of play to the construction work. They are bright, attractive, yet simply drawn - the way construction equipment should be. Each father is plain and hard-working, and proud of it.
And those hard-working fathers are proud of their children too. When the day of work is done, they celebrate their children's achievements: "When their rumble day is through - Mighty Dads say 'I'm proud of you! Tomorrow let's build something new!'" I love that the fathers end the day looking forward to spending the next with their children! And everyone is fast asleep as the book ends.
This book is going to be well-loved by Albert and his dad, and I can't wait to share it with them. Here's to a fun day spent together!
Mighty Dads. By Joan Holub; pictures by James Dean. Scholastic Press, 2014.
sent by the publisher on request.