When I first encountered Dad Bakes on the “New Picturebooks” shelves of my local library I didn’t have any expectations beyond a read-aloud to compliment a cold weekend after some father-son baking time. When flour finally returned to shelves a few months into the initial on-set of the pandemic, baking became a way for me to create and break away from the digital malaise of virtual education. It also became a shared connection with my youngest son, who like many kids are drawn into the joy of cooking and baking through stirring, mixing, measuring, and munching on the results.
What I found instead was a much deeper tale. A story of the behind-the-scenes labor force that works while the world sleeps. A story of rebuilding and reacclimation by those released from incarceration – faced with the challenges of picking up the pieces and finding stable work. Author and muralist, Katie Yamasaki paints a tale of love and patience between a father and daughter who have spent an extended period of time apart (noted by the box of letters kept and labeled, “Papa”) Though now reunited, their time together is staggered by the hard hours of a 3AM shift at the “Rise Up! Bakery,” a hat-tip to Detroit’s “On the Rise Bakery” which “provides employment, supportive housing, training, counseling services, and educational opportunities” as stated in the author’s note at the conclusion of the book.
While reading this to my own children (6 and 4) I modeled some active wondering and thinking around the illustrations, including the box of letters the narrator keeps from her Papi and the early hours on Papi’s clock. “We are never awake that early! Where could he be going?!”
We identified the many ways the narrator and her Papi share time together and show love for one another, building foundational understanding that other families can look different, but share many qualities when compared to our own. The next morning, we baked blueberry muffins together, though they were not nearly as artfully prepared as Papi’s freshly baked bread bear! Whether you’re seeking a tale of father-daughter love, or a gentle entrance to a deeper conversation about mass incarceration and its impact on families and communities, seek out Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki at your local library or bookstore.