Nashville children’s author Josh Bledsoe brings readers a gender-bending day of adventure between a father and his daughter in Hammer and Nails, his debut picture book illustrated by Jessica Warrick.
Young Darcy is disappointed when a play date with her best friend is cancelled. But in swoops her father to recommend a Darcy-Daddy Day. His idea: each of them will submit a list of preferred activities, and they will tackle the to-do items as a team. Darcy isn’t sure her father will like her list, but they forge ahead anyway. “Give me a chance!” he tells her.
Playing dress-up, tending to the princess while simultaneously managing to get the lawn mowed (Her Majesty’s Mowing Service to the rescue!), donning his daughter’s pink tutu, and the game of Hair Salon are no problem for Darcy’s father, who isn’t at all reluctant to let his feminine side show in the name of fun. Warrick’s expressive illustrations, rendered via watercolors and digital paints, aren’t afraid to go for big laughs: in their salon game, Daddy ends up with an Elvis-esque pompadour, complete with a purple hair ribbon and a giant smile on his face. Later, when it’s time to do their nails—after Darcy assists with the other kind of nails, as she helps fix the fence in their yard—her father goes for a bold Lumberjack Black shade for his manicure. This is all to Darcy’s great delight, even though she has to wait patiently as Daddy stops for “ice packs and a royal rest” in the middle of their rambunctious day of imaginative play.
The heart of this sweet but never cloying story is the love between parent and child. Darcy’s father gives it his all, never once turning down a game in the name of traditional gender roles—a refreshing thing to see in picture books. When Darcy, who’s accustomed to more delicate play, hesitates to use a hammer for the fence work, her father tells her that “sometimes things you’ve never done end up being fun.” Darcy nails the hammer thing, and Daddy nails a day of loving and energetic bonding with his daughter—even if Darcy has to give him the same advice about trying new things when he doesn’t immediately warm to the idea of nail polish. It’s a win-win for all.
Bledsoe’s fluid dialogue keeps the story moving at a brisk and entertaining pace. This tale could easily be too saccharine in tone, but the author strikes just the right balance of affection and humor. Father’s Day is nigh, and Hammer and Nails is a good holiday choice for daddies and daughters. But a story this endearing can be enjoyed any time of year.
Julie Danielson, a former school librarian, blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage. Her first book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, was released in 2014.
Tagged: Children & YA