I wasn't sure why I created a family without a mother when I wrote Wild Thing. I've nothing against mothers. I've a very nice one of my own. Many of my best friends are mothers. Not to put too fine a point on it, I AM a mother. It wasn't something I thought about at the time. Kate and Wild Thing just didn't happen to have a mum. They had a dad looking after them instead.
|interior from Wild Thing Gets A Dog - copyright Jamie Littler|
I think a lot of the reasons writers choose something are unconscious. Afterwards, bringing a more deliberate analysis to bear, the reasons become clearer. So now I've no doubt that the reason I got rid of Kate and Wild Thing's mother was because I wanted as much mayhem as possible. I planned these to be funny, chaotic books. Although I hate to admit it, I suspect that's easier without Mum.
Single Parent Families featuring Dad have a lot of advantages to a writer. Somehow, it seems entirely natural for dad to be fun and quirky, to be a lousy cook, and to forget about things like the start of term, or a child's need for new socks. Of course, mothers are quite capable of forgetting these things too. (Well, I am.) But it strains the credulity of a reader more. (Or it's just harder as a writer to break that “responsible, boring Mum,” stereotype.) So maybe writing about a Single Dad is the best way of writing about the chaos and mishaps which are, if truth be told, absolutely normal in all families everywhere.
Here are some children's books featuring single dads.
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
Danny adores his dad, and together they have crazy adventures – would a fictional mother have been allowed to be so irresponsible, and yet so loveable?
The Summer House Loon by Anne Fine
Ione's dad Professor Muffett is an absent-minded academic, preoccupied with his research into “Early Sardinian trade routes”. He is also blind. An entirely sympathetic character, it is not surprising that a certain amount of chaos flourishes in their household in this witty, sophisticated book. A really fun read for a certain kind of teenager – the kind that doesn't want angst, but some comedy instead.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Another absent-minded professor, Mr Penderwick is left to bring up his four daughters when his wife dies, in a book which is a bit like a more modern version of Little Women, but with a dad replacing “Marmee”.
Rooftoppers by Katharine Randell
This prize-winning book features...another academic single dad. (Hmm, beginning to detect a bit of a trend.) Charles is the foster father to Sophie, who is an orphan from a shipwreck. He is absent-minded and eccentric and he and Sophie eat off books rather than plates, their bizarre house-keeping getting them into trouble with social services. It's rather whimsical but also very appealing.
The Longest Whale Song by Jacqueline Wilson
And finally...you can rely on Jacqueline Wilson to be a bit more down-to-earth, and although she's written several books with single dads, I don't think any of them are absent-minded academics. What is especially nice about this one, is that it features the relationship between a girl and her stepfather, forced to work as a team when the mother enters a dangerous coma after her baby's birth. Ella's stepfather is far kinder and more responsible than her biological father, and once again Wilson shows that a successful family can come in all shapes and sizes.
Please tell me your favourite single dad stories...with or without absent-minded professors.
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