Fathers and children share affection in page after page of delightful tales

BOOKS

June 09, 1995|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

As a girl, I loved my mother, but I adored my father. He wasn't home much -- he worked 14 hours a day, six days a week running Dunhams' Automotive -- so the times we did share were precious.

The memories are as indelible as the black creases of grease that lined his palm, and I tend to them as gently as I traced those creases while sitting next to him at church on Sunday -- his day off.

The Sunday smells come back in a flash: his Old Spice at Mass, the bacon he would insist on cooking to a crisp for our late breakfast, the pungent dead skunk we'd inevitably pass on the family's hours-long afternoon drive in our Country Squire station wagon.

In honor of the Dad I still adore, here are some books to check out for Father's Day:

* "My Ol' Man" by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, $15.95, 40 pages, ages 5 and up) is the latest gem by one of the most talented storytellers of our time. In this book, Ms. Polacco shares her memories of the man who shared her gift: her father, William F. Barber.

Cruising the back roads of rural Michigan in his pink Buick, he was a traveling salesman who collected stories. He was divorced. During the school year Patricia and her brother, Richie, lived with their mother; they spent summers with their father and Gramma in a village near Lansing.

"He was a flimflam man," Ms. Polacco writes, ". . . a dream saver, a wish keeper."

Every day he comes home to regale the kids with a new story. Then he is laid-off. It's a struggle, but he still manages to make Patricia and Richie believe in the riches of the imagination. And just when it looks like his pink-and-chrome cruiser will be repossessed, a radio station decides to hire him to tell stories on the air.

It's a reassuring tale about fate and faith in magic, and Ms. Polacco's pencil-and-watercolor illustrations capture the warmth and whimsy. As a bonus, she has turned the endpapers into a family album, with photographs of her dad, herself and Richie and their Gramma over the years.

* "Guess How Much I Love You," by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram (Candlewick, $13.95, 32 pages, ages 3 and up) ranks up there with "Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?" among fine bedtime books for dads to share.

Little Nutbrown Hare is getting ready for bed, but in order to drag it out as long as possible, he begins the "Guess how much I love you game," with his dad. "This much," the little rabbit says, stretching his arms wide.

"But I love you this much," his dad says, stretching his longer arms so much wider. And on it goes, with the little one reaching high or bouncing up and down to measure his love, and the dad doing the same. Finally, as he drifts off to sleep, Little Nutbrown Hare bests his father: "I love you right up to the moon," he says.

But Big Nutbrown Hare still gets the last word, as he snuggles next to the sleeping bunny: "I love you right up to the moon -- and back."

Despite the publisher's recommendation, this book is appropriate for children as young as 1. Ms. Jeram's earth-toned watercolors are witty enough to keep the book from getting smarmy.

* "Grandaddy's Stars," by Helen V. Griffith, pictures by James Stevenson (Greenwillow, $15, 32 pages, ages 5 and up) is the latest in an award-winning series about Janetta and her grandfather. It follows "Georgia Music," "Grandaddy's Place" and PTC "Grandaddy and Janetta."

In this installment, Grandaddy leaves his farm in Georgia to visit Janetta and her mother at their rowhouse in Baltimore. Ms. Griffith captures Janetta's anxiety -- she's worried Grandaddy will oversleep and miss his train, or fall asleep on the train and miss his stop in Baltimore.

Once Grandaddy arrives safely, Janetta frets that he'll be bored with his visit. Suddenly the list of things she wants to show him -- her cat, her room, her feather collection, her school and her playground -- seem so trivial compared with the sights and sounds of Grandaddy's farmyard.

But Grandaddy has lost none of his down-to-earth humor and wisdom during the trip north. He is impressed with all the stops on Janetta's tour, and he finds a way to ease the sadness of his departure.

"What's the use of having company, if you're going to feel so bad when they leave," Janetta asks her mother after he leaves. But later that night Janetta remembers what her grandfather had said when he first looked out her window: "That's the same patch of sky I see from my room in Georgia. . . . Those stars are my own stars."

Long after Grandaddy's gone, she can look at the stars and know she's sharing them with him.

As usual, Mr. Stevenson's pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are superb, and he gets all of the Baltimore details just right, from Pennsylvania Station to the bay window of the rowhouse.

Of local note: Now that school is letting out, local libraries are gearing up their summer reading programs. Stop by your local branch for details, or check the blue pages in the phone book for the information number of your county library system or the Enoch Pratt in Baltimore City.

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