The Best Picture Books about Dads for Father's Day
It’s almost Father’s Day. You can almost feel it in the air, right? Father’s Day music is already playing on the radio. Kids everywhere are buzzing in anticipation of the big morning. Ha! Who am I kidding? I legitimately have no idea when Father’s Day is. My wife recently mentioned to me that it’s in June. I haven’t missed it yet, have I? It’s soon, right? But, let’s be clear, just because nobody knows when Father’s Day actually is, it doesn’t mean dads aren’t important.
Dads have an incredible influence on the lives of their kids. The memories we provide and the priorities we model can most certainly have a very lasting impact. Dads are important role models for children to look up to. They can teach their kids what’s really important - and build up their self esteem and their sense of wonder. In return, kids teach their dads the meaning of life in ways they could never have imagined. Capturing that very special relationship in a work of art is no small task. The books on this list have done a remarkable job.
Books about dads can basically be split into a two categories. The first category consists of books depicting dad as a big dope. Dad is just a big kid who can’t take care of himself. He’s walking around in his own slapstick comedy tripping all over himself and feeding his kids ice cream for breakfast. The second category consists of books depicting heartfelt and inspiring relationships between dads and their kids - showing dad as the loving role models that are so important in a child’s life.
I’m not 100% opposed to category one - I suppose I am a big dope to be completely fair - but I must say I’m a much bigger fan of the second category. That’s why the vast majority of the picture books on this list feature sincere, loving relationships between father and daughter or father and son. They remind me of the important role dads play in providing a magical childhood, and they do a much better job illustrating what it really feels like to be a dad, or to look up to one with love in your eyes.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Those links will lead you to view the books’ listings on Amazon.com.
Written and Illustrated by Fred Koehler
I really love the illustrations of Little Jumbo and his dad. I think it’s a great original art style - and these elephants crack me up. How To Cheer Up Dad is one of those role-reversal types of books where the child thinks they’re in charge - or they think they’re doing their parents favors but they’re really just as oblivious as ever.
Little Jumbo’s dad is not in a good mood. It may or may not have anything to do with the behavior of Little Jumbo - but, regardless, Little Jumbo wants to help cheer up his dad. Some of his efforts are more heartfelt than others, but it’s definitely the thought that counts. Personally, I really love the ending with Little Jumbo sneaking out of bed to get into more mischief - pondering how much cheering up dad will need tomorrow.
14. Me and My Dad
Written by Liza Alexander and Illustrated by Kelley Jarvis & Richard Maurizio
This is a book from my childhood featuring Sylvester the cat and his son Sylvester Jr. from the Looney Tunes. It’s most definitely a dad-is-a-dope book, but I think we can all agree that Sylvester is a dope. Sylvester Jr. praises his dad for all of his good, fatherly intentions, but laments how terribly wrong everything seems to go every time.
Unfortunately the internet seems to think it doesn’t even exist anymore, so I suspect it would be very hard to track down. But this is my list, and I have very fond memories of this book. And now that my kids are getting into my old Looney Tunes DVDs, any of my childhood books featuring the Looney Tunes are prime reading material.
Written and Illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter is a childhood staple as far as I’m concerned. Just like The Berenstain Bears, Max and Ruby, or Charlie Brown - when Little Critter tackles a holiday there’s a good chance it will be on my list. Nostalgia is powerful and Little Critter was a big part of my book education growing up. I always love finding the mouse and cricket and spider on each page and I love sharing that with my kids as well.
Just Me and My Dad is a celebration of spending time with dad on a classic father/son camping trip. Instead of dad-is-a-dope, I suppose you could call this one kid-is-a-dope, because it’s chock-full of everything going wrong for Little Critter while he plays it off like it’s no big deal as the narrator. But everything ends well with Little Critter tucked into his sleeping bag and looking up at his dad with love in his eyes.
Written and Illustrated by Lisa Anchin
This is certainly a very different father/daughter story, because the daughter is a plant. Mr. Aster grows a little girl and takes care of her as any good father would. The interesting development here is that the Little Green Girl grows up and wants to see the rest of the big world for herself.
This picture book tackles very interesting themes like allowing your kids to discover the world for themselves, and accepting that you can’t just grow them to be little copies of yourself. It’s highly likely that they’ll have their own interests. The best you can do is prepare them for that leap they have to take one day. And if you pay close enough attention and keep an open mind, you might realize you don’t know everything after all - and your little ones can teach you a lot about the world as well.
You can read even more about this great book in the article I wrote about using The Little Green Girl to teach empathy.
11. Jabari Jumps
Written and Illustrated by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps is a different kind of entry on this list, because the main focus of the story is definitely Jabari overcoming his fear of trying something new. His relationship with his dad is not the driving focus of the story, but it’s a very important part of its charm, and it can’t be ignored.
Jabari wants to jump off of the high dive at the pool, but he is very scared. His dad watches on the sidelines and plays his role in the situation to perfection. He encourages Jabari, but also tells him it’s okay if he wants to come down and have a rest. He lets him know it’s okay to be scared, and describes to him a trick he uses to get past his own fears.
This is one of those very big moments in the life of a child - trying something new and scary. And Jabari’s dad is right there with him to show his unconditional love and support.
You can also find Jabari Jumps on our list of The Best Picture Books to Teach Life Lessons.
Written by Jimmy Fallon and Illustrated by Miguel Ordónez
This is a really silly concept book that makes me laugh. It’s really the perfect combination. The title and concept itself is a great joke - repeat the word DADA over and over until your baby says it. It’s funny imagining moms and dads battling it out over whose name will be called first. It certainly makes this a very funny gift for dads at baby showers.
The fact that it’s Jimmy Fallon behind the book as well doesn’t hurt. Who doesn’t like Jimmy Fallon? He’s done a remarkable job building up a very sincere reputation as a lovable guy. And then they find a great artist in Ordónez to draw these very quirky animals - and you have yourself a well-deserved hit. Well played, everyone.
Written by Scott Sutton & Alec Traub and Illustrated by Glenn Zimmerman
Like Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, I can’t separate this beautiful book from its tragic true-life story in my mind - and it gives it new layers of emotional context. But the fact of the matter remains that this is a very sweet and funny story in its own right - with fantastic illustrations from an artist from Garfield Studios.
It’s organized as a give and take between father and son. It’s a how-much-do-you-love-me book similar to the classic Guess How Much I Love You?. But I honestly enjoy this one even more - mostly because of the silly wordplay and the vibrant illustrations from Zimmerman. It’s an absolutely beautiful gift to let your little one know what they mean to you and a fantastic celebration of the father/son bond.
Written and Illustrated by Jeffrey Brown
These are two very goofy books that are a perfect fit for people who are both dads and fans of Star Wars. They’re both the kind of books that are actually more of a present for the parent than for the kids. That’s not to say that kids won’t love them too, but there are a lot of inside jokes from Star Wars and plenty of parenting humor aimed directly at mom and dad.
The running gag in these books is that Darth Vader is actually raising Luke and Leia. Each page is a stand-alone comic with Darth Vader and his son or daughter doing everyday mundane parenting things. It’s a great concept, and it makes for two very funny books. I highly recommend it as a gift for any Star Wars-loving dads out there.
Written and Illustrated by Doug Cenko
With very few words, My Papa Is a Princess does a remarkable job of capturing the beauty and importance of simply being there for your kids and playing with them. Doug Cenko alternates between pages of the little girl proclaiming what her dad is in her imagination, and pages showing what the two actually look like while they’re playing.
This book very much hits the sweet spot of celebrating the power of the imagination during childhood - and highlighting the role that parents get to play in creating a magical world for their kids. There truly isn’t a better gift a dad can give than to play with their kids the way that this dad is playing with his daughter. The sweet relationship in this book is what being a dad is all about.
You can read about other works by Doug Cenko and this publisher - as well as their wonderful mission - in this article we wrote about Blue Manatee Press and dialogic reading.
Written by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Illustrated by Aurélie Guillerey
Daddy Long Legs hits home for me because the little boy in this one reminds me a lot of our son. Sometimes he’s not to fond of farewells or drop-offs, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to question me when I’m leaving the way the little boy in this book questions his dad.
Before going to school one morning, the boy observed how his dad’s car had a little trouble starting. So when dad says “See you this afternoon”, it makes the boy ask, “What if the old green car doesn’t start?”. This leads to one of those hilarious conversations that never seem to end. Dad comes up with a new creative way he’ll make it to school to pick up his son, and his son questions them all one by one. The best part is how Dad ups the ante each time with his creative travel plans. And, at the end of the day, it’s just an incredibly sweet reminder that dad will always be there for you - no matter what silly thing happens.
5. Ask Me
Written by Bernard Waber and Illustrated by Suzy Lee
No picture book does a better job of capturing the essence of a precocious child basically narrating their thoughts with no filter. Waber does an uncanny job perfectly capturing the voice of a little one that’s equal parts sassy and adorable.
The story follows a little girl on a walk with her father, and the entire book consists only of their dialogue.The little girl basically dictates the entire conversation, because she tells her dad what questions she wants him to ask. “Ask me what I like.” “Ask me what else I like.” And my personal favorite:
Ask me if I like ice cream cones.
Do you like ice cream cones?
No. I love, love, love ice cream cones.
This is an amazing dad too. He’s more than happy to oblige throughout the entire conversation - and demonstrates his sincere interest in her random musings. It feels like a very realistic snapshot in the life of a dad, and I love being transported into their afternoon walk.
4. Owl Moon
Written by Jane Yolen and Illustrated by John Schoenherr
The loving relationship between father and daughter is very understated and subtle in this book, and that’s why I love it. Similar to another book on this list, Ask Me, this is the story of a walk between a father and daughter - a celebration of spending time together and building magical memories. But the walk in Owl Moon is of a very different variety. It’s a very quiet walk through the woods, and the girl takes their mission very seriously.
The father and daughter are owling - that is, they’re walking through the beautiful, enchanted, snowy woods looking for owls. The little girl is the narrator, and my favorite part about this book is all of the peppered-in clues about how incredibly serious she is. Little clues are given here and there letting us know how much this trip means to her, and I have no doubt she’ll remember it for the rest of her life. Those are exactly the memories we’re supposed to be making with our little ones, and that’s the whole point. Experiences are everything.
Owl Moon also made our list of The Best Picture Books to Read on a Snowy Day.
Written by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Dave McKean
This is the highest ranked dad-is-a-dope book on this list by far, but it’s well-deserved. Neil Gaiman always impresses with his originality. And just like another one of our favorites, The Wolves in the Walls, Gaiman has teamed up with illustrator Dave McKean. Once again they have brought us another absurdly creative story. I don’t know how you possibly come up with stuff like this, but I’m very happy that they do.
The boy in this book literally swaps his dad for two goldfish. He takes the bowl of goldfish from his friend, and his friend just leads his dad back to his house while he’s reading the newspaper. By the time the boy realizes he better get his dad back, his friend has already swapped him for something else with another friend. And so on for many more swaps. And by the time he finally tracks his dad down, he’s just sitting in a rabbit hutch reading the newspaper like nothing happened. It’s just brilliant.
Written and Illustrated by Soosh
The art in this book is astounding. Every single page is heartfelt and beautiful. This could easily be a wordless picture book and the love between this father and daughter would still come pouring out of it. Dad By My Side is definitely one of the very best dad books ever made.
The point of this book is that this dad is always there. Better than any book I’ve ever seen, this story makes crystal clear how strong of a relationship this father and daughter have. It’s truly inspiring as a dad - and it’s funny how a picture book can so effectively encourage you to be your very best.
This dad isn’t afraid to look silly, he goes out of his way to make his daughter smile, and he always finds time to play. When his daughter needs him he is there. I’m amazed at the artistry behind the depictions of this inseparable duo. Every single page could be hung on the wall as an inspiring work of art. If you are looking for a book to celebrate your love for a father - this is it.
Written and Illustrated by Miguel Tanco
You and Me, Me and You celebrates the powerful bond between a father and child from a slightly different perspective than normal. Typically you’ll find that books about dads and their kids will celebrate the positive influence dads have on a child’s life. This book is quite the opposite. It takes a very profound look at the effect a child has on their father.
This is a very short book, but it makes a big impact on me in very few words. Nothing makes me sadder than the idea of losing your childlike innocence and your sense of wonder. Sparking my kids’ imaginations is very important to me, but it’s easy to forget that so often it actually happens the other way around. When I say I want to help my kids keep their imaginations burning bright, what I really mean is that I and other adults need to get out of the way and not ruin it for them.
This book would make a wonderful gift for any father. It warms my heart. It’s a celebration of childhood. And it’s an unbelievably beautiful reminder of how our kids transform us. They remind us how to find joy in the world and discover meaning. And they give us the incredible opportunity to reach inside and be our best selves.
Have you read any of our favorite books about dads yet? What’s your family’s favorite Father’s Day picture book? Let us know in the comments!