This past Monday was a huge day in kidlit circles. Not only was it the first annual Multicultural Children's Book Day (see the list of diverse titles linked up here) but also Monday was the day the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced. This is kind of like the Super Bowl for us kidlit geeks - the day we wait all year for, when we find out at last who won the biggest children's lit awards given by librarians. It's always fun to find out which titles I've read and loved, which winners are surprises, and which just caught me by surprise.
Overall I was pretty thrilled with this year's list, especially the fact that Brian Floca's Locomotive won the Caldecott. (Honestly that was not even one I thought about, since the Caldecott is rarely given for nonfiction, but it was probably Sprout's favorite book of the entire year.) And I was happy to see a title we recently read, Daniel Beaty's Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me, awarded a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Bryan Collier's incredible art.
Full disclosure: this is an honest book about a very tough situation, and it may not be for every kid. Certainly I'd say approach with caution when reading this one with a child who has been through early trauma, particularly the abrupt loss of a parent. It's a great book for discussing those events - but just know going in that there *will* be discussion from any kid, and maybe some upset from a wee one who's had early trauma. But while the subject matter is difficult -- Beaty writes from the point of view of a young boy whose father, like Beaty's one, drops out of his life one day -- I think Knock Knock absolutely has a place and a use with the appropriate audience. I applaud Beaty's willingness to tackle tough topics, and do so thoughtfully and sensitively.
Beaty's own story influenced the plot here; his father was incarcerated when the author was just three years old, and Beaty didn't get to see his dad for many years. That's an incredible burden for a young boy whose father is the center of his life, and that's what we see in Knock Knock: the daddy who has been such a fixture for the main character is one day absent, and he doesn't come back, though our hero waits and hopes. Beaty describes the loss the boy feels in concrete terms -- it's the scrambled eggs Daddy makes, and the absence of a return knock in their familiar game. One day the boy writes his father a letter, leaving it on his desk, and after a while a return missive comes. It's a heartbreaking answer, one that acknowledges the pain the boy feels but also relates the dreams the father has for his son, his hopes and wishes for the boy he knows he'll not see in the same way again.
Knock Knock is very beautifully written, and readers can feel Beaty's emotions through every line. This is an author who has lived this truth, and created something marvelous to help other children through the same sort of event. And the images by Bryan Collier are, as you might expect, amazing. Collier blends collage with his own watercolors to create pictures that are deep and introspective, even haunting. The character's expressions display their feelings, and kids who have experienced loss will recognize the look in our hero's eyes as he waits for his father. Toward the end of the story, as we read the father's letter to his son, Collier gives us a glimpse of the boy's future - we see him growing up, learning a career, and building a family of his own. Throughout, though, we know the father has never truly left his son, but is there in spirit and in thought.
Knock Knock absolutely deserves the attention it received and has earned its place in ALA award history. Read this one before you share it with your kiddos, but don't shy away just because the subject matter is hard - this is a title that will speak to kids who have been through a similar event, and create empathy and understanding for children who haven't yet had this kind of loss.
Knock, Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, published by Little, Brown
First lines: "Every morning, I play a game with my father. He goes KNOCK KNOCK on my door, and I pretend to be asleep till he gets right next to the bed."