The best fictional fathers: A troll, a bear and a few good men

Rupert Bear with his dad. Image courtesy: The Illustrators

What makes a good fictional father? Is he strong? Is he sweet? Can he jump over buildings in a single leap?

To answer this question, I assembled my panel of “literary experts” (ok, so that would be me, my six-year-old daughter Sarah and my husband Paul) and we turned to our favourite books. Our ideal fictional fathers are a motley crew: a non-judgemental tailor, snuggly daddy, kindly and adventuresome troll, loving bear, ever-patient king, thoroughly modern dad and heroic pioneer. These father figures come from different worlds, but they are strikingly similar: kind, patient, smart and fun–if not perfect, always trying their best, and always loving. We think these are some of the best fatherly qualities–in fiction and in real life.

1) Daughter’s choice: The tailor in A Cloak for the Dreamer (1995) by Aileen Friedman

  • A beautifully illustrated book about a tailor and his three sons. Two of the sons are gifted cloak makers like their father, but the third wants to travel the world. A book that teaches about geometry, but at the heart a moving story about loving and accepting our children as they are, not what we want them to be:
  • “He is such a nice dad. He made his son a cloak so he could wear it when he travelled around the world.” (Sarah)
Image courtesy: GoodReads

2) Daughter’s choice: Snuggly daddy in Muddle Cuddle by Laurel Dee Gugler (1997)

  • This is a rhyming book for very young children about a very patient dad who starts out reading the newspaper in peace and quiet, and ends up being sat upon by a variety of children, toys and animals. They all end up in a “jumble-muddle-cuddle on the floor.” We couldn’t find too many cuddly daddies in books, and this one stands out as showing the simple pleasure of snuggling on the couch.
  • “This is a very cuddly daddy, like mine!” (Sarah)

3) Daughter & Father choice: Moominpappa in the Moomintroll series (1945-1993) by Finnish writer Tove Jansson

  • The top-hatted Moominpappa is a loving, adventurous and eccentric troll who lives in a fantastical world called “Moominvalley” with his wife Moominmama, their son Moomintroll, and an extended family of fanciful characters including Hemulen, Sniff, the Snork Maiden, Snufkin and Little My. My husband read the wonderful Moomintroll books with his parents when he was little and is now reading them with our daughter. These gentle books are perfect for young children who like wildly imaginary stories without the scary bits. Jansson’s world view and illustrations are equally beautiful.
  • “Moominpappa is very nice to his entire family, and he is even nice to the mischievous little My.” (Sarah)

Image courtesy: Wikipedia

4) Father’s choice: Mr. Bear in the British series Rupert Bear

  • The Rupert Bear series was first created by English artist Mary Tourtel in 1920, continued by Alfred Bestall in 1935, with several other artists carrying the mantle since then. Child of a Brit, this was another book my husband loved to read and collect when he was little (Rupert Annuals were sent over in Christmas parcels from Grandparents in England). Now, he has passed this passion on to our little girl (and me too!). We love Rupert’s magical adventures in Nutwood Village, and his gentle, bow-tie wearing, pipe-smoking “daddy” who gives his child lots of room to roam. The comic book style is very accessible for young readers.
  • “He is calm, he is kind, very reasonable, and he always listens to Rupert. I’m not sure if he believed Rupert’s stories, but he never discounted or belittled them–he always took them seriously and tried to make helpful suggestions no matter how fantastic the story. And that’s what I try to do.” (Paul)

5) Mother’s choice: The dad in the Knuffle Bunny trilogy (2004+) by Mo Willems

  • An hilarious story about a little girl and the (mis)adventures of her beloved “knuffle bunny”. Author Mo Willems writes a story that is both realistic and respectful of the day-to-day challenges (and joys) that face children and parents.
  • “This is a story I can relate to–exhausted first-time parents and their irresistible, infatiguable little girl. It features a thoroughly modern dad, who puts his daughter first, and is finding his way, doing his best, one minute at a time.” (Anne)

6) Mother and Daughter choice: The King in the Little Princess series by Tony Ross

  • This older dad has his hands full with the Little Princess but luckily, he has an entire staff at the castle who help out. Not perhaps the most generous portrayal of an only child, but really it could be any child and she is very loveable.
  • “I like this dad because he is always loving and patient (even when she’s a bit grumpy!), and he goes about this fatherly duties with a sense of humour.” (Anne)
  • “I like that he calls her poppet.” (Sarah)
Source: “I don’t want to go to bed” by Tony Ross (2003)

7) Father and Daughter choice: “Pa” in The Little House on the Prairie series (1932+) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

  • Our daughter is fascinated by the adventures of this frontier family, and my husband enjoys both Pa’s relationship with his three daughters and his incredible survival skills. Even though these real-life stories are set more than a century ago, many of the scenes between the father and his daughters (teaching them new skills, keeping them safe, tucking them in a night) are timeless.
  • “It’s amazing that Pa built a comfortable house with heat, furniture and a place to cook using only a knife and an axe–no electricity, no power tools, no nails!” (Paul)

8) Mother’s Choice: the real life adventures of Paul & Sarah, two happy souls wandering through life together. Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband, and to all the other lovely men (trolls and  bears too) who care for–and read to–a little person.

4 comments

  1. You have chosen some really inspiring books here. I haven’t had the pleasure of the Moomins yet or Little House on the Prairie so thanks for writing about them so beautifully. Nice pic at the end too!

  2. A beautiful post. It made me remember all the orphans I have read about, children’s books seem to be full of them … There are for example very few fathers in Astrid Lindgren’s work, and those who are mentioned are of a very strange constituency – like Pippi’s father who is a pirate sailing the seven seas …

    • Yes, that is the challenge – to find father’s who are actually present in children’s fiction. And then there are the bad dads – the worst offender is Cinderella’s father of course….

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