There seem to be plenty of “Mommy and me” board books out there for young readers, but relatively fewer “Daddy and me” books. So as a father, I was pleased to find Daddy Calls Me Doodlebug by J. D. Lester, illustrated by Hiroe Nakata (Robin Corey Books). Lester’s previous book was Mommy Calls Me Monkeypants, so this is the companion book for dads.
These make popular baby shower gifts, and I can see why; the bright illustrations and cadence of the rhymes will interest younger children just as much as the details will interest older ones.
The book opens as a father plays with his child, balancing it on his knee and doing “airplane.” I say “it” because the illustrator has cunningly made Daddy’s child a generic “kid,” so it’s hard to decide whether this is a boy or girl; my daughter and I decided it’s probably a girl because of the pretty pattern on her top.
Daddy calls his child “Doodlebug” as a nickname, so each page spread shows different daddy-and-child animals in their own settings, along with text telling what nickname the animal father calls his little one. The rhymes are in couplets.
As an example, “Daddy calls me Hockey Puck…we slip and slide on ice!” (penguins), “Daddy calls me Powder Puff… because my fur’s so nice!” (cats). There are a total of 12 pairings of different nicknames to enjoy and discuss with your child.
Discuss? Why, yes — that’s one of the reasons my daughter enjoyed the book even though she’s probably a bit too old for it. At 4, she’s more inquisitive, and therefore enjoys spends time analyzing what is happening in each picture. I encourage her by asking her why she thinks a certain nickname fits each baby. For example; why does Daddy Hedgehog call his little one “Prickly Pear?” In the book it says you have three guesses!
My daughter also identifies the raccoons, but has no idea why Daddy calls his baby “Rub-a-dub” (“we scrub-a-dub our treasures), nor what they were doing by the water. In the illustration, Daddy holds a crab and the baby a fish. I ask her about this and she replies they’re fishing the crab and fish out of the water.
We then spend a few minutes discussing the fact that raccoons try to wash their food when they can, so she gets a short natural history lesson on raccoon behavior. The story time gets further delayed because she brings up some fair questions; what do the raccoons in our Midtown yard wash with? Do they use our garden hose? Why doesn’t the baby raccoon’s fish swim away while it is being washed?
Of course, all these questions enhance the age-old game of stretching-the-story-time-to=make-bedtime-a-little-bit-later! As a family of Ursophiles (that’s bear lovers to you), our house is brimming with Paddington and Pooh bears. Because of that, there is a part of this book that almost causes a riot of outrage in my household, something even a preschooler recognizes as a huge mistake. You might want to sit down before reading further….
On the page with two penguins, the background snowdrifts are topped by a group of penguins, and over to the edge of the page there is a polar bear and two cubs. Yes, you read that right, POLAR BEARS! Somebody needs to have their artistic license revoked!
As even a 4-year-old knows, polar bears live at the North Pole and penguins live at the South Pole (most, anyway), so every time they appear together in children’s books, it’s incorrect. The escape clause is that we are really just trying to get out youngsters used to different animals from different climates, so it isn’t really a big deal. The problem is that when the children get older and they see something like this they pounce on it.
“Ooooohhh,” says my daughter shaking her head, “those polar bears shouldn’t be there, they live in the North Pole with Santa!” A mistake of Ursus Major proportions.
Before I can make apologies for the book author, my daughter decides the polar bears must be on vacation, so all the penguins need to do is put a fence around their playground and the bears won’t eat them. Problem solved, crisis averted. Phew!
In conclusion, I would say the intended audience for this book is probably ages 2 to 4, but it can still be interesting to older preschoolers who may take more time examining the details of the illustrations (even if it means critiquing them). Like most board books, you can read it in a couple of minutes to a sleepy head or talk about what’s going on in the story and take much longer.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to run out to the backyard and make sure those raccoons aren’t visiting. I’m sure I heard the outside faucet being turned on — or could it be vacationing bears instead?