Nicola Davies: Ride the Wind

Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

Published by Walker Books, 2020

The title of this picture book and the soaring wingspan of the bird on the front cover suggests that this story is all about an albatross. And it is. But it is also a tender story about a father and son, grieving the loss of wife and mother, and learning to live with her absence in their lives.

We meet Javier, his father Tomas and Uncle Felipe, on the choppy seas sailing the Magdalena off the coast of their hometown, catching fish and whatever else might get caught up in their nets. Tomas has changed since the death of his wife, and we learn from the things he says and they way he says it, that this change has not been for the better.

One afternoon, an albatross gets caught up in the fishing nets and is thrown aside on the deck of the boat while Tomas and Felipe sort through the catch. Javier, a boy with a big heart, keeps the bird safely wrapped in a tarpaulin and hides it until the boat makes it back to the shore. Once there, with the help of other people in the village, and without his father’s knowledge, Javier creates a makeshift home for the albatross.

In the old storeroom behind the house, the albatross settles and grows strong again in Javier’s old play pen. During this time, we begin to understand why Javier feels compelled to help the injured bird. Like the albatross leaving its partner in search of food, Javier’s mother left home to travel to the city for work, but she never came back. Javier needs to help this albatross find its way back. He knows it won’t bring his mother home again, but he understands the nature of waiting and wanting.

When Tomas finds out that Javier has rescued and hidden the albatross, his father is so angry that he does something unforgivable. Javier responds in the only way that makes sense to him. Suddenly, father and son must face their own worst fears and make brave choices about what it means to love and be loved.

This is a dramatic story brought to vivid life by the intimate connection between text and illustration. Rubbino’s drawings are brilliant and evoke all the emotions and pathos of the story. I can highly recommend it for children 4-8 years and anyone who loves a good story about albatrosses.

For me, however, this story is a gateway to understanding that we all grieve in different ways, and that communicating how we feel can be hard, even with the people that we love the most. 

Below are more suggestions for picture books about fathers and sons, a relationship that is precious, but not always easy. Fortunately, most of the books that are my favourites positively celebrate the wonderful bond that can be shared between fathers and sons:

Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand Illustrated by Tony Fucile

Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig

On My Daddy’s Shoulders
by Peter Lawson

My Dad Used to Be so Cool
by Keith Negley

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by David McKean

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

My Dad Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

My Dad Still Thinks He’s Funny
by Katrina Germein
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

When You Were Small
by Sara O’Leary
Illustrated by Julie Morstad

The Boy From Mars
by Simon James

The Deer Watch
by Pat Lowery Collins
Illustrated by David Slonim

Hello, Jimmy! by Anna Walker

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

No Kind of Superman
by Danny Parker
Illustrated by Matt Ottley

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Phi

Spot Loves His Daddy by Eric Hill

Why I Love Footy
by Michael Wagner
Illustrated by Tom Jellett

Anna Walker: Hello Jimmy!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Random House, 2020

Depression, loneliness, separation and divorce, can be difficult topics to tackle in picture books. Depending on your experiences, the story can validate how you feel or help you to understand how someone else might be behaving, especially if that someone else is a person you love. Sometimes people can withdraw from life and relationships, making it hard to be the one who is on the outside of that formidable barrier.

How to help, how to respond, how to show compassion and empathy can be challenging. The road to recovery is not always straightforward. There can be many twists and turns, big backward steps and tiny steps forward. Sometimes it is hard to articulate just exactly how you feel through it all.

Anna Walker has dedicated this picture book to her brother, someone she loves who has been through the experience of separation from his partner. In the story, we meet young Jack visiting his dad who seems lonely and sad, the house is quiet and the normal routines are not what they used to be. Jack and his dad are finding it hard to make meaningful connections in this new way of being together.

That all changes with the arrival of a very loud, green, feathery and unexpected visitor!  Jimmy the parrot is found on the doorstep after a storm, and his presence shakes up everything. Suddenly Jack’s dad comes alive, the house is noisy with squawking and Jimmy’s antics bring neighbours in to see the clever parrot.

It’s great for Jack’s dad, but Jack doesn’t like surprises and he doesn’t like Jimmy. The parrot’s arrival hasn’t changed the way he and his dad connect. In fact, it seems to have made Jack seem even more invisible. One night, Jack leaves his bedroom window open and Jimmy flies away.

This is a pivotal moment for Jack. On the one hand, he feels a sense of release because Jimmy is no longer a distracting presence in the house. On the other hand, he also feels guilty because that green, noisy and provocative bird seemed to be the catalyst for his dad’s happiness and interest in life again…and now it is gone.

The rescue mission doesn’t bring Jimmy back, but it does make father and son realise just how much they mean to each other, with or without a cheeky parrot in their lives!

There are lovely, intimate details in the artwork of this story: toasters, socks, newspapers, pots and pans, stray power cords, the messiness of home. There is also tenderness in the tale of how change can affect us and those we love.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years and below there are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of depression, loneliness, loss and separation:

Love Waves by Rosemary Wells

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic Illustrated by Olivier Tallec

The Colour Thief by
Andrew Fusek Peters
Illustrated by Polly Peters

Thank Goodness for Bob by Matthew Morgan

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

The Red Tree by Shaun Tan

The Cloud by Hannah Cumming

Emily’s Blue Period
by Cathleen Daly
Illustrated by Lisa Brown

Two Homes by Claire Masurel Illustrated by
Kady MacDonald Denton

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst Illustrated by Geoff Stevenson

Two Nests by Laurence Anholt Illustrated by Jim Coplestone

Ride the Wind by Nicola Davies Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino