I’m not one for sentimentality or overly sweet and mushy stuff. When you become a parent, it seems like those are the kinds of books that you are bombarded with, and there are approximately a squillion picture books and board books out there about parental love. How much mothers love their babies, how much daddies love their babies, how much babies are loved by various other family members. I dislike pretty much 95% of them because ugh. I’m far too cynical for these kinds of books. Imagine my surprise when I found books about parental love that I liked! That I liked enough to want to buy and reread and recommend! Goodness. Either I’m getting more sappy in my old age or there is something about these books that makes them stand out, and they aren’t the overly saccharine and sentimental books that normally populate baby shower gift displays (I think it’s the latter).
Plenty of Hugs by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Kate Alizadeh (14 April 2020)
This one surprised me by how much I liked it. The marketing copy compared it to LOVE YOU FOREVER, a book I strongly disliked, so even before opening the book I was already predisposed to dislike it. But I read it anyway and loved it. It’s about a toddler going about a normal day with his two mums, doing things like riding bikes, going to the zoo, eating dinner, and going through the bedtime routine. The rhyming text is exuberant and full of the kinds of observations that toddlers specialise in, and the illustrations are cheerful and gorgeous. This book is a lovely celebration of a toddler’s everyday life and the comforting love of parents and family.
Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan (10 March 2020)
This one is less explicitly about a parent’s love for their child and is instead about a parent’s wishes for their child — which is inextricably bound with the parent’s love for their child. The prose uses inspiration from the Quran, and each wish begins with ‘Inshallah’, a phrase that means ‘if God wills it’ in Arabic. The wishes in this book are ones that parents of all colours and faiths can identify with: for their children to be safe, to be gentle and kind, to be good to the earth and other people, to be thankful, and to be loved like the moon loves the sky.
In My Heart by Mackenzie Porter, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (10 March 2020)
I’ve only recently discovered Jenny Løvlie’s illustrations and I adore them. I think I’ve found a new favourite illustrator. This is a gorgeous board book about a mum who has to spend her days away from her child because she has a job outside the home (I hate the term ‘working mother’, because it seems to imply that mums who don’t work outside the home aren’t working; staying at home with my kid is the hardest job I have ever had, thank you very much). The child asks her mum what she does all day, and her mum says that even when she’s not with her, she’s always in her heart. The text is sweet without being overly sentimental, and if you are a ‘working mother’ then this is a book sure to tug at the heartstrings.
Cave Dada by Brandon Reese (31 March 2020)
This is a hilarious and sweet book about bedtime and stories and how all kinds of parents, even cavemen, will do anything for their children. Baba wants a book, but Dada is tired after hunting and gathering all day. He’s not reading a bloody book. So Baba cries. And Dada does what any dada would do: tries to stop the baby crying. He goes and gets a book (a stone tablet with hieroglyphics), but Baba wants a bigger book. Oh, children. Testing the limits of their parents’ patience since the dawn of time.
Just in Case You Want to Fly by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Unlike the others on this list, this is one I expected to love because it’s from one of my favourite children’s author/illustrator teams, and the book met my high expectations. It’s sweet, quirky, and humorous, with simple and perfect text and Christian Robinson’s signature style in the illustrations. This book is about the reassurance and safety of a parent’s love, about all the things you might need in case you want to fly. I love the entire book and I especially love the last line: ‘and here is a map with an x on the spot to find your way home to me’.
Under the Love Umbrella by Davina Bell, illustrated by Allison Colpoys
The ‘love umbrella’ is a lovely analogy for the encompassing and omnipresent love of a parent. When life is a bit hard or scary or unfair, everything is still okay because you are under the love umbrella. The neon illustrations are great (these aren’t colours you usually see in this sub-genre of books). There are two things I especially like. There are umbrellas on every page, and on one page where there’s a moving truck, the truck’s number plate is ‘BROLLY’. The other thing is the super Australian touch of the ‘no hat no play’ sign in the school classroom. Takes me back to my childhood.
In writing this post, I’ve realised that it’s not that I’m against parental love, or things that are sweet, or books about these things. I think love is great. But what I appreciate most in a book about these feelings is when they can do it in a way that is also clever and funny and joyful, not just sappy and pastel-coloured and sentimental. The books on this list are ones that I think achieve this superbly.