{book} my father knows the names of things


Day 03

My Father Knows the Names of Things

by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2010.

Jane Yolen is a favorite but it was the subject that really caught my eye with this picture book. It made me wonder how many father books there are outside of the toddler set–and even then. Books with human fathers, not animal, plant, or mineral. Books with fathers not gone away or anticipated for their return.

Everything in My Father Knows is an adventure, and even bath- and bed-time are hardly depicted with reluctance. The boy and his dad are out-of-doors in the wild, the park, the sky, the sea, hiking about in nature, studying the sciences in their surroundings. They are indoors painting and in urban places, too, like shops. And everywhere they go, father knows and shares the names of things. An enthusiasm is not drawn solely from the rhyme or colors or from the depiction of the boy alone, the dad is invested, energetic and playful. He is present and knows things and is eagerly sharing them.

Nothing in the text or illustration denotes a dream- or wishing-state. It is all matter of fact and thus completely possible. The artwork is fluid and accessible, primary colors in water color and gouache, and most importantly, not baby-ish. Nor does it have serious lines and serious color intonation that screams I am now going to share a meaningful moment with you. The drawing out of the rhyme can be a bit tricky, but the pages while begging for a turn do not mind the lingering study either.

My Father Knows is a great but has the potential to be a challenging father/child book. It creates an expectation that a father not only knows but shares/teaches.  Yolen and Illustrator Stephane Jorisch depict an easy affection and nurturing tone between father and son, and even with the pair with their surroundings. Dad is spending time with his son, showing him the world, “He knows which dinosaurs are meanest. He knows which soaps can make you cleanest.”

Recommendation…Powells Books has its ages 4-8 and that sounds right. I think the dads/sons part is pretty obvious, but I can see the book holding a particular fondness for men whose own fathers were as involved and instructive.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Jessica says:

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought about the father thing, but you’re right. Almost all picture books deal with present mothers and absent fathers. This one sounds like a nice change.

    I’m not very familiar with Jane Yolen’s picture books, but one of my favorite books as a child was THE DEVIL’S ARITHMETIC.

    1. L says:

      my first encounter w/ Yolen in picture books is her How Do Dinosaurs… series w/ Mark Teague as illustrator, which are great!

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