knock for yourself…

30 days of pbDay FifteenKnock! Knock!: My Dad’s Dream for Me

By Daniel Beaty, illus. Bryan Collier

Little, Brown for Young Readers 2013.

knock knock coverEvery morning, I play a game with my father.
He goes knock knock on my door
and I pretend to be asleeptill he gets right next to the bed.And my papa, he tells me, “I love you.”
But what happens when, one day, that “knock knock” doesn’t come? This powerful and inspiring book shows the love that an absent parent can leave behind, and the strength that children find in themselves as they grow up and follow their dreams.—publisher’s comments.

It is not unusual enough for me to laugh loud enough to draw attention when reading picture books in public spaces. It is a rare moment for a picture book to draw a tear, even in private. Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one that slays me every time. Seated with a stack of picture books in the studiously quiet adult section of the library, I was tearing up and sniffled beneath a few casual stares.

KnockKnock3I was first moved by the tender ritual between father and son. The heartstrings tightened to breaking when the boy wakes to find his father no longer there. It is a slow waking. A dawning is not fully realized until the end of the book when the boy has grown into a man with a family of his own, “For despite my absence you are still here.”

Why or where the father has gone is left without explanation. There are any number of reasons, nevertheless the little boy is left to deal with the reality of the absence and unrequited desires: “Papa, come home, ‘cause there are things I don’t know, and when I got older I thought you could teach me.”

knockknock2Like A Snowy Day (Keats) and Bird (Elliott) we see a boy sitting by the window looking out from the inside. We are there with him as he sends a paper airplane letter into flight.

The text is powerful on its own, the father’s letter is touching, and the son’s maturity aggrieved but inspiring as he comes to take on the dreaming for himself. But the images do more than hold their own. They have the kind of narrative complexity I usually anticipate with graphic novels. Everything about them moves to strengthen the evocation of the written narrative.

Collier’s photo collage and water color, the inclusion of textures and patterns–a life made up of clippings–gives the images layers, depth, the concrete complications of reality. Not only are the boy and his settings tangible, but the emotional conflicts as well. The most easily read is the rainbow on the wall that falls. I love the border of marching elephants, memory in a line on a bedroom wall, large in composition. The construction trucks crash together in the hands of a troubled boy. Instead of constructing something they become destructive. As the young boy grows, the childhood interest in construction, in building things, returns in a positive aspect for the man he would become.

knock knock pagesBuildings figure in as the story expands from a room to a kitchen to the neighborhood and we see the photographic images of children’s faces on tenement rooftops, and then street level the fading of a father’s visage. This is when the boy tells his absent father: “I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are.” We witness the juxtaposition and, indeed, the conflation of the forgotten and the forgetting. He is left imagining what it would be like to be a grown man, a husband, a father. Fortunately, the imagination proves able. He dreams and grows into an image of wholeness, of achievement, of being present.

Knock! Knock! is not one to only be especially selected for a reader’s situation. The narrative, the gorgeous visual storytelling, this is a book that should belong to everyone. If you can only own it for a little while (thank you public libraries) please do.

of note: I really really love that cover. It was appealing before the read, but so much more deeply felt afterward.


Daniel Beaty  is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, and composer. He has worked throughout the U.S., Europe, and Africa performing on programs with artists such as Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Jill Scott, Sonia Sanchez, MC Lyte, Mos Def, Tracy Chapman, Deepak Chopra, and Phylicia Rashad. He holds a BA with Honors in English & Music from Yale University and an MFA in Acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. He is a proud member of New Dramatists and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. Both Emergency &Through the Night have are published by Samuel French and available online. Knock Knock is his first children’s book based on his poem.  Daniel has also written a Spoken World Ballet Far But Close that premiered in the 2012/13 season for Dance Theater of Harlem.  (via site’s bio)

the poem performed:

Bryan Collier‘s “interest in art was always encouraged both at home and at school. He began to develop a unique style of painting that incorporated both watercolors and collage.

“Collage is more than just an art style. Collage is all about bringing different elements together. Once you form a sensibility about connection, how different elements relate to each other, you deepen your understanding of yourself and others.”

In 1989 Bryan graduated with honors from Pratt Institute with a bachelor of fine arts degree. Today Bryan spends his time working on his book illustrations, creating his own studio pieces, and going into classrooms to talk with teachers, librarians, and students about books and art. “I ask them to tell their own story. Then I ask them to tell their own story through art.

“The experience of making art is all about making decisions. Once the kids really get that, you see them making the connection. They go from saying, ‘That’s not about me’ to ‘Hey. Look at me. This is who I am.'” (via site’s “bio”)

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

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