Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Where are all the nice, normal dads in children's books?

When it comes to bedtime stories, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ava loves the US author Richard Scarry’s books, especially Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. Personally, I’m not so keen. I find Pa Pig — Scarry’s father character — profoundly irritating.

Cars and Trucks centres on the Pig family’s outing to the beach. Over the course of the day, Pa Pig repeatedly lets down the others. He falls asleep, having promised to drive. He fails to change a flat tyre, leaving his wife to do it. He gets sunburnt, despite her warnings. It’s an image of the lazy, feckless, unreliable paterfamilias echoed in various TV sitcoms. He is practically a porcine Homer Simpson.

I wouldn’t mind this so much were it not that Ava’s favourite TV programme (with accompanying books) is Peppa Pig, boasting a similarly comical caricature of fatherhood in the shape of the amiable Daddy Pig — fat, greedy and a DIY disaster zone.

Don’t get me wrong, Peppa Pig is wonderful. And I’m aware that there is plenty of good-natured humour to be had from lampooning fathers. But, faced with these negative images, I looked through Ava’s selection of bedtime reading in search of positive representations of dads.

The result was a shock. Not only did I find precious few role-model dads, I found hardly any dads at all. In all the picture books piled up around our house — more than 100 of them, in unsightly towers — mothers appeared in just under half and were invariably portrayed in a positive light. Fathers cropped up in nine, of which only five took a positive role in parenting. Read more
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