The Children’s Book Review
Published: June 3, 2013
Fathers. As humans, we recognize and celebrate the importance of a warm connection between males and their offspring. But in the wild, it’s not often that males stick around to nurture their young, especially among mammals. While bird fathers are frequently equal caretakers from the brooding to the fledging of their young, as evidenced in my book Little Loon and Papa (Dial, 2004), in warm-blooded mammal families, where the mother nourishes the young from her body, dads are often notably absent. So what is an author to do if she needs a nurturing dad on the East African savannah?
Research, of course! As a former children’s librarian, I know the power of picture books to enchant and instruct their young readers. So I take seriously my task of communicating accurate information about the animal characters I create while also addressing the themes I have in mind for my stories.
In the case of Just Like My Papa, I needed a father-son pair to star in a companion title to my book Stay Close to Mama (Hyperion, 2012), a celebration of motherhood through the story of a mother giraffe and her extremely curious young calf, Twiga. My talented illustrator Mike Wohnoutka and I wanted to celebrate fatherhood in the same animal-rich habitat, but whom to choose?
Everyone knows that male lions are ferocious. Anyone who, like me, has slept on the East African savanna, can instantly conjure up the deep-throated roar of the male lion, a fearsome warning. Stay away! he seems to command. And spotting him during the day, even from a vehicle, is a reminder of the raw power of the animal behind the roar.
So how did a male lion become my unlikely choice for the father character in Just Like My Papa? The answer is simple. While a male lion is capable of being irritable and impatient with his cubs, if caught in a good mood, he is tolerant and even playful, allowing his young ones to climb all over him, rake his mane with their sharp little claws, and even nibble on and bite him with pointed little teeth. Of course, my lion father would be in a welcoming mood.
Meet Papa Lion, then! He is the protector and king of his pride and his territory. He is also the idol of his adoring son, Kito. Like so many human children, Kito wants nothing more than his father’s attention. He follows him through a typical lazy day on the savanna, basking with him in the dappled shade of the acacia tree, roaring to keep other male lions away, and playing a tolerant game of toss-the-cub with his dad. As the day ends and Papa and Kito follow the lionesses on their wildebeest hunt, Kito knows that someday he will grow up to be just like his papa.
For Father’s Day, and everyday, the message is clear. Fathers protect, defend, and care for their little ones who, in turn, hope to grow up to be just like their fathers.
About the Author
Toni Buzzeo is the author of nineteen picture books for children, including Stay Close to Mama, a companion to Just Like My Papa, the Caldecott Honor winning One Cool Friend, illustrated by David Small, and No T. Rex in the Library, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa. For sixteen years, she worked as a Maine school librarian. She combines her knowledge of children’s literature with her love of children to write about characters of all stripes (including lions, giraffes, dinosaurs, penguins, loons, and human children) who explore their worlds, their relationships, and themselves in a variety of settings.
Toni works both from a writing cottage just past the gardens at her colonial farmhouse in Buxton, Maine and from her sunny winter nest in Sarasota, Florida. Visit her at www.tonibuzzeo.com.
More Blog Tour Fun
Tues, June 4: Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, June 5: As They Grow Up
Thurs, June 6: Susan Heim on Parenting
Fri, June 7: Mundie Kids
Mon, June 10: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tues, June 11: There’s a Book
Wed, June 12: Momma Drama
Thurs, June 13: One Book at a Time
Fri, June 14: Once Upon a Story
By Toni Buzzeo, for The Children’s Book Review
Published: June 3, 2013