Picture Book Review: Missing Daddy by Mariame Kaba

Missing Daddy written by Mariame Kaba, illustrated by bria royal

A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.
Image description: A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.

From Goodreads: A little girl who misses her father because he’s away in prison shares how his absence affects different parts of her life. Her greatest excitement is the days when she gets to visit her beloved father. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this book illuminates the heartaches of dealing with missing a parent and shows that a little girl’s love can overcome her father’s incarceration.

Missing Daddy is one of those picture books where its simplicity belies its power. A little girl speaks about what it’s like having a parent in prison. Her grandmother helps out and her mom works hard. Good days are when she can visit her father and hug him. She has some support in the form of her teacher and adults she can share her thoughts and feelings with. But sometimes the kids at school tease her. She also has a half sibling that lives in DC that she wishes she could talk to more so they can talk about missing their dad. The text is rhymed and the final page shows the girl standing at the front of a classroom holding a piece of paper which I understood to mean the books is supposed to be a poem she’s written and is now sharing with her class.

There are a handful of picture books that deal with incarcerated parents (Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott, and Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat all come to mind)*, but it’s not a commonly covered topic. And yet, there are 5 million children who have had a parent incarcerated at some point during their childhood. This is not a topic we can or should sweep under the rug. These children deserve to see themselves in the pages of picture books and need to see their feelings validated. If you don’t know Mariam Kaba, what are you doing with your life? Look her up. She does incredible prison abolition work and you need to have her work on your radar.

The illustrations are awesome. I love the color palate. I love the sketchy black outlines filled with blocks of color. It makes the book feel very modern and appealing. The line drawings of the people remind me of the posters and remembrances of people in the Black Lives Matter signs. It’s also incredible that the illustrator centers “black and brown imaginations of womxnhood, femininity and gender fluidity”. We need to be supporting artists like this and it’s not very common in traditional publishing.

For those of you using this in a classroom or with your children, there is a discussion guide in the back to help guide your conversations around the story. I know these conversations can seem hard, particularly if you are not used to having tough conversations about big topics like this and a discussion guide can help.

If you are a library or school with populations that experience incarceration this must be on your shelves. Honestly, you may not know if a family has someone incarcerated, so even if you think you don’t serve families with incarcerated folks, you might. But please also consider having this on your shelf if you don’t have kids with incarcerated parents. This is a topic everyone should be discussing with their kids- don’t let these families be invisible to yours just because you don’t have someone in prison. Knowing that some children have their families torn apart by the criminal (in)justice system and that it harms them will foster empathy in kids who are fortunate enough not to be experiencing it (and hopefully inspire them to fight the system).

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or directly from the publisher Haymarket Books. If you work with any organizations that do jail support where they offer coffee, snacks, and supplies to folks visiting jails and/or being released from jails, donate copies to have out for kids heading in to visit incarcerated family members.

*Interestingly, I realized all three of these books and Missing Daddy feature girls with incarcerated parents.