In an age when millions of children grow up in single-parent households, not many picture books are willing to tackle the topic as directly as this one. Bryan Collier’s illustrations, newly honored with a Coretta Scott King Award, evoke a richly textured urban environment, a perfect counterpoint to Daniel Beaty’s lyrical portrayal of an African American boy yearning for the return of his absent father. Leaving open the question of what caused the father’s departure — incarceration, desertion, death — lets readers supply their own answers, while the first-person narrative voice makes the tale both poignant and respectful, focusing on the sense of loss without vilifying the absent parent. “Papa, come home ’cause I want to be just like you,” the boy says, “but I’m forgetting who you are.” Collier’s carefully constructed pictures expand this all-too-common circumstance beyond the borders of the page, transforming grimy reality into a collage of hopes and dreams. We see the father’s discarded hat flying across rooftops covered by a kaleidoscope of ghostly, half-seen children’s faces only to reappear in the end, transformed into a bright yellow hard hat as the boy grows into his manhood and places it like a beacon on his own son’s head. Wobbly lines of words on a sheet of paper morph into paper airplanes and then reemerge on a diploma hung on the wall of a young architect’s office. There’s a lot to look at, a lot to think about and a lot to discover in this book that portrays life not only as it is, but as it can become.

Kristi Elle Jemtegaard


My Dad’s Dream for Me

By Daniel Beaty

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Little, Brown. $18. Ages 5-8