The Night Dad Went to Jail by Melissa Higgins

Dad in Jail9781479521425_p0_v1_s260x420The Night Dad Went to Jail:  What to Expect When Someone you Love Goes to Jail

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.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

43 thoughts on “The Night Dad Went to Jail by Melissa Higgins

  1. Interesting Pat. Here’s another title that appeared in PW today: Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by
    Daniel Beaty, illus. by Bryan Collier. I’m not sure how I feel about the use of a rabbit as the protagonist vs. a child. What do you think?


    • Cathy, Thank you for the book recommendation. It’s a new release and I hadn’t seen it. It doesn’t really say why the boy’s father left — did he die, just leave or go to jail? It could be used for many situations. To answer your question, I am okay with the fact the protagonist is a rabbit, because all of the characters are different animals, including the policemen. It shows diversity without showing race. Yes, I prefer real characters, but I think this book works well for young kids. And, if you watched the Sesame Street video, they did something similar.


  2. How very sad that 2 million kids may have seen a parent go off to jail! Heart wrenching! Thanks very much for posting this Pat.


  3. I’m with Nancy- Jaw dropped at 1 in 43. What does that say about our society? Wish we didn’t need this book, but it looks like a good resource and the use of the rabbit is genuis to represent all ages, races, etc.


    • Unfortunately we need more resources for the children. Yes, I liked the use of animals for diversity. From what I’ve observed, many of the incarcerations are drug-related. Their parents aren’t serious criminals. We are lacking in mental health programs. There are so many reasons.


  4. 2 million kids that’s a lot. It looks like a great book to deal with a difficult topic. I often wonder do the people the most in need of these books ever find them.


    • I know Sesame Street is making a big effort to make it’s video programs available. Books are harder — I really have been searching for books. I hope that school counselors, therapists, social services and the prisons and rehab programs have access to materials.


    • I’m glad you’ve found a resource — because it has been tough to find books. And, I’m thrilled with the work Sesame Street is doing to help kids who have parents in jail or a rehab center. I have seen stats even higher in my research.


    • I thought the author did an outstanding job with this subject. Choosing animals for the young children makes it easier. Many of those who have parents in prison, are there for minor crimes like drug abuse. So, I’m sure that there are many kids keeping secrets. Hint — we need more books in this area.


  5. Wow, Pat! You have such a knack for finding amazing books on the hard and less usual topics. I’m thrilled to be adding this to our list because it is a much needed topic and this is the first book we have on it. Thank you so much!


  6. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see bunny rabbits when I clicked on that subject line in my inbox, lol! I think this is an easily overlooked group of kids. I confess criminals and disdain first pop into mind when I hear the word “prison,” not kids missing a parent. Thanks for giving my compassion levels a jolt today, Pat.


    • Telling the story with animal characters allows for diversity and doesn’t point at anyone race. And, there are a lot mothers in prison and drug rehab lockdown facilities too — which is even more heartbreaking. Glad I gave you a jolt because I believe it is a subject we don’t want to think about. We need more resources for the children.


  7. Another great book for kids in a difficult situation. I have worked with youth at risk and can see why this would be a valuable book. I think using animals is a good idea, especillay for the younger children. This book would also help other children (who don’t have a parent in jail) understand what their friends/school mates are going through.


    • Yes, I thought telling the story with animals was a good idea, although others questioned the use. For young children, I think it’s not threatening. For older kids, I would choose differently. Since you’ve worked with youth at risk, I appreciate your thoughts. And, you are right — this would be good to use with other children so they understand what their friend may be going through. Today, with drug useage, this could be the kid next door.


      • Yes, my husband I have visited female inmates years ago, and you could see how hard it was on kids. They’d be shy and cautious when they arrived. But, when they left, some of the kids would be clinging and tearful as they said goodbye. I saw a lot of mixed emotions — but kids are forgiving.


  8. This sounds like such an excellent book, Pat. I think sometimes animals are chosen to illustrate books with tough topics to make it one step removed from a child’s own life, helping them to cope better with the content.

    There’s a picture book on this topic that I know I’ve seen at our main library — I will search for the title, and will let you know what it is.


  9. Another (sadly) needed topic. I hope I can find a copy. Thanks for adding it to the PPBF list. It’s the way I find so many great books.


  10. This looks like a great book. We know a LOT of kids with parents in jail or prison. And kids who know all about detention centers. It’s a sad state of affairs. This could be a really valuable book. Thanks for sharing!


  11. I am so moved that you tackle all these difficult issues, Patricia. How must a child feel to have their world turned up-side down and for the person they depend on almost entirely (apart from mum) to be made wrong. Oh! so sad. After all, small children think their parents are infallible!


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