Melissa Higgins, author
Wednesday Kirwan, illustrator
Picture Window Books, Fiction, 2012
Suitable for Ages: 4-8
Themes: Children of Prisoners, Prisons, Separation, Family Relationships
Opening: This is one of my before drawings. Before means “before my dad went to jail.” Dad and I didn’t catch anything, but we had fun anyway.
Synopsis: Family life is disrupted one night for Bailey and his siblings when police officers arrive at their dad’s apartment. They arrest their dad, put him in handcuffs, put him a police car, and take him to jail. An officer remains behind until their mother arrives. Naturally, Bailey is upset, scared and wants to know ”why and what happened?” He even asks if it is his fault. His mother explains that their father made a bad choice, broke a law and would be in jail. Attending school the next day and dealing with the teasing from the other kids angers and embarrasses Bailey. On their first visit with their dad, a glass window separates them and they talk to him by phone. When he’s transferred to a prison, they walk through a metal detector, can hug and spend time with their dad. Their dad will be in jail for six years, so Bailey and his siblings join a support group and find ways keep in touch by writing letters and drawing pictures.
Why I like this book: I’ve been looking for a book like this for a while. There are roughly two million children in the country who have a mom or a dad in prison for a variety of reasons. Melissa Higgins has written a sensitive and compassionate book for children facing such a difficult separation. All of the characters in the book are animals, which makes the story easy to read to a child. Although the children have done nothing wrong and may not even understand what has happened, they feel responsible. They are teased at school and associated with a crime they haven’t committed. Wednesday Kirwan’s illustrations are especially warm, caring and show the stages of feelings the children work though. Throughout the books she offers facts at the bottom, like “One in every 43 kids in the United States has had a mom or dad in prison.” This is an excellent book for parents, teachers and counselors.
Resources: The author has included a glossary of terms to use with children. She suggests some helpful internet sites and resources. With so many children with parents incarcerated, Sesame Street has created a video for children and a tool kit for parents, caregivers and therapists. There is also the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated.
Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.