There is something about the love between a father and his son, and that something is very prominent in author Daniel Beaty’s latest picture book, Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me.
The book opens with an absolutely adorable two-page illustration by artist Bryan Collier, in which a young boy lies on his soft bed with eyes closed and a big smile on his face, as if he’s anticipating something wonderful.
And something wonderful happens indeed. There is a KNOCK KNOCK at the door, and then the boy’s father comes into the room and sweeps him into his strong and protective arms.
“I love you,” his father says.
It’s a simple beginning, and one that conjures warm and cozy memories of that golden time in life, when children are convinced the sun rises and sets on their parents. In fact, the very next illustration (which is also the cover illustration) shows the boy with his head on his father’s shoulder, his way of telling the reader that this man is his entire world. This illustration demonstrates just how intensely these two people revel in one another’s love.
Unfortunately the warm and cozy feeling doesn’t last, because one morning the knock never comes. There is no preparing for the change; no explanation. The father is just gone, and never comes back.
Every morning the boy waits — with drooping face and heart — for his father to return, and every morning he is disappointed. He even tries writing a letter that asks who will teach him the things he doesn’t know if his father doesn’t return. But the answer never comes.
And then one day, a letter is waiting for him. It’s from his father, and it has words that just might give him the courage to believe he can navigate his way from childhood to adulthood…alone.
Knock Knock is a bittersweet book about love, loss, and the courage to keep pressing on. The prose is sweetly tender in the beginning, and becomes more straightforward and uncompromising as the book progresses. Readers may find it a bit unsettling that the boy’s mother never talks with him about his father’s absence in the book, but this is easily forgiven because it only reinforces what readers already know: That parents are not perfect, and life does not always go (or end) the way a person wants.
Mr. Collier’s illustrations are quite moving and cover a range of emotions. Readers see the boy’s adoring face as he interacts with his father, then his slumped shoulders as he yearns to see that familiar face.
Readers eventually get to see something quite wonderful as the story progresses. They see the young boy sprout from boy to man. They see the slumped shoulders of a pre-teen become squared and strong as he matures. They see him swipe shaving cream off his teenaged face during his first shave, and they see him excel in business and family life.
This is an achingly wonderful book that should probably be introduced into every elementary classroom as a jumping off point for discussing family dynamics. Teachers can use it to open discussions about fathers and sons; what it’s like to be fatherless; and how a child can make his/her way through life when one of the parents is no longer there.
Best wishes and happy reading,