A Card for my Father, written by Samantha Thornhill and illustrated by Morgan Clement, is brilliantly and beautifully told from the point-of-view of Flora Gardner, a little girl who has never met her father.
Flora has light brown skin and big expressive eyes underlined by a dash of freckles. Readers are introduced to her as she sits in a classroom, head resting on her hand as she contemplates how much she dislikes Father’s Day.
Flora has never met her father. The awkwardness of her classmates excitedly crafting Father’s Day cards makes her want “to melt into her chair.” She notices another student, the pale-rosy skinned loner Jonas Borkholder, slouching in his seat instead of participating in the card making frenzy. It’s later revealed that his father has passed away. Clement carefully communicates their pain in images that disrupt the lighthearted atmosphere in the classroom. The reader is forced to take account of those children who don’t have fathers to celebrate.
The text gracefully moves back-and-forth through time. but with purpose and control that makes it easy for young readers to follow. For instance, in an extended flashback it is revealed that Flora’s mother shuts down whenever Flora asks about her father. When her mom has had enough, she tells Flora her father is “a ghost with a heartbeat.” And, his absence haunts her.
Back in the text’s present, Flora sits in class listening to her peers tell stories about their fathers. She imagines herself in their tales, with a father like the ones they describe. But when she remembers the “faceless phantom” who is her father she feels “like an eel at the bottom of the sea.”
Flora tries to avoid going to her school’s Father’s Day picnic, but her mother isn’t having it. At school, instead of sharing a blanket with her father she shares it with her teacher. That is, until her mom surprises her by showing up at the picnic. Although Flora’s thrilled, she is still consumed with contacting her father and asks her mother if he might write her back if she sent a letter. Her mother finally relents and says: “There’s only one way to find out.” The phantom takes solid form through Clement’s illustration of a man wearing a shirt with the letters INMA… scrolled across the back.
I participated as a reviewer in Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 and during the group’s Twitter party so many people were asking for children’s books about incarcerated parents. A Card for my Father doesn’t just fill a gap on the bookshelf, it does it very well. This book is special.
Thornhill can’t stop herself from writing poetry, and Clement’s images play an integral role in the story. Her illustrations give Flora’s feelings a heavy presence on the page. Word and image pair perfectly giving the subject matter engaged the dignity it deserves and gifting the world with a brilliant book.
Penny Candy Books sent me a copy of the book to review (at my request).