It’s not hard to see why Daniel Beaty’s Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me has gotten great reviews (and is a Cybils picture book finalist). The young boy narrator begins by telling about the game his and his Dad play every morning. The boy clearly adores his Dad and his Dad loves him. But one day the Dad doesn’t come home. The boy sends him a letter and waits for a response. When the Dad finally writes back his answer is both heartbreaking I will not be coming home and beautiful No longer will I be there to knock on your door, so you must learn to knock for yourself.
Like all great illustrators, Bryan Collier watercolor and collage paintings tell the story along with the text. The expressions on the boy’s face are tender and sad and warm and compelling. I loved that the illustrations also went further than the text alone. As we hear the father’s words to the boy, we see images of the boy growing up and becoming a man with children of his own.
Diversity is a big buzz-word in kid lit this year. The fact that the boy in this book is African-American certainly makes this book a needed addition to a library. However, even more of a factor is that fact that the father in the book is in prison and that the story is based on the author’s own childhood and father. The fact that the father is in prison is not ever stated directly in the book, which might be confusing or upsetting for some kids if they think he has just left. However, I think leaving it vague was a wise decision. It mirrors the boy’s own confusion at what has happened and it leaves some space for discussion.
I’m often a bit torn about “issue books”. In general, I think adults like books that help kids deal with divorce or death or bullying much better than kids like reading those books. But I also believe that reading a book about a kid going through something similar to what he is going through can truly help. Mostly I see a place for those kinds of book but I don’t particularly seek them out to read and enjoy with my own kids. Knock Knock is the rare book that transcends the “issue” genre. Yes, it would be a wonderful book for kids who are faced with the loss of a parent for any reason. Yes, it is great for children of color to see someone who looks like them in a book. Yes, it is good for kids who don’t live in cities and who don’t have parents who are in prison to read about people who are different from them. But more than any of that, it’s a good book.