What a welcome change this book is from the usual boring primers for just-beginning readers, aged 3 and over.
A little girl’s muscled and tattooed dad works at a bakery, leaving for work when it is still dark. When he comes back home, it is still morning, and his daughter lets him sleep for a while. Then she wakes him and together they make bread and do chores around the house. At night they share some teddy-bear shaped bread on a table on their rooftop, and then Dad tenderly tucks her in bed with her stuffed teddy bear.
Yamasaki, who is both author and illustrator, uses very spare prose with matching pictures that will make easy reading for beginners, such as “We go to the kitchen. We mix, we knead, we roll. We wait, and we wait.”
The vividly colored paintings show the warm affection between father and daughter as they move through the day.
Back matter includes a note by Yamasaki that explains she envisioned the father as a former prisoner, and talks about the effects of incarceration of parents upon children. She writes:
“Every day, incarcerated mothers and fathers across the country parent their children with tremendous love and unbelievable resilience. Eventually, most people will return home to their families, to their communities. But the return is not easy….”
She indicates that she has collaborated with organizations devoted to helping such individuals rebuild their lives. One such organization is Detroit’s On the Rise Bakery, which seems to be the inspiration for this particular story. She provides hypertext links for six of these organizations that help the formerly incarcerated.
On Yamasaki’s website, you can even download a recipe for Teddy Bear Bread.
Evaluation: Giving children a mirror in which they can see their own lives is so important, and here Yamasaki contributes to a neglected area of representation. As she states in her Note, there are over five million American children who have experienced parental incarceration, and many more who have experienced it in their extended families. This positive look at the humanity and love of such ex-prisoners is a welcome addition to children’s literature. In addition, the portrayal of strength including love and tenderness and non-gender-stereotypical activities is most welcome.
Published by Norton Young Readers, 2021