Fly Daddy Fly

My Dad’s A Birdman by David Almond, Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick, 2008. 9780763636678. 128pp.

Gene: Before I moved last year I hadn’t seen this book for a long time, and I hadn’t really thought about it, but as I was looking at my shelf I realized this is the book from my daughter’s childhood that means the most to me. It’s one of the first chapter books we read together. It’s illustrated. And it’s all about a little girl coming to understand her very weird dad.
Sarah: (laughs)
Gene: It’s My Dad’s A Birdman by David Almond, illustrated by Polly Dunbar.
S: On the title page he’s eating a worm!
G: Lizzy’s the little girl. Her dad is kind of sad and unkempt.
S: Sad bathrobe dad!
G: She kind of takes care of him. There’s a guy named Mr. Poop who is taking entries for The Great Human Bird Competition, a contest to see who can be the first to fly across the River Tyne and win thousands of pounds. Mr. Poop comes around and calls for entries with a bullhorn, as one does. And Lizzy’s dad enters. He plans on wearing the wingsuit he’s made.

S: (looking at the illustration of the wingsuit) They’re like little collage feathers.
G: Very collage-y. There’s a wonderful texture to the pictures of the wings. Dunbar is an artist who clearly uses real-world textures, and it looks almost like she’s drawn on top of something, or cut out something, or put them in there with a computer — I’ve got no idea what she did but it’s marvelous.
So Lizzy’s dad starts acting more and more birdlike, and he’s very excited. Lizzy has an Aunt Doreen who comes over, trying to take care of Lizzy’s dad. She tries to get him to eat but he doesn’t want to eat because he wants to be light like a bird, and Aunt Doreen thinks Lizzy is being abused or neglected and isn’t in a good situation — she’s really looking down on Lizzy’s dad. She’s a busybody.
And at one point there’s a turn where Lizzy sees how awesome her dad is. He’s captured a crow, and she’s trying to speak to him about just watching the birds instead, and she looks at him and says, “You’re so clever.” Aunt Doreen is trying to get Lizzy to leave, but she won’t. Her aunt stomps out, her dad pretends to lay an egg. And then Lizzy and her dad make a nest in the house…
S: Out of fabric scraps and branches and stuff!
G: And they enter Lizzy into the contest, too. She says: “You understand, don’t you?…It might not work, but whatever happens we’ll have done it together, won’t we, dad? That’s what really matters.”
S: Awwww.
G: And then they go to the competition together. Lizzy has a little wingsuit of her own.
S: They’re dancing with their wings on.
G: And these are all the contestants! People dressed like dragonflies, helicopters…it’s just crazy. It looks like those old film reels of people trying to fly using crazy contraptions.
S: This guy has rockets on his back.
G: Everyone keeps falling into the water. Here’s a guy loaded into a giant slingshot which his kids are pulling back.
There are three books I really like as a dad: Knuffle Bunny, My Dad’s A Birdman, and the manga Yotsuba&!, which I understand is marketed to dads in Japan — it’s about the feeling of being a dad.
S: That is really nice.
G: And here’s a bit of trivia. This is the only book I ever wrote an Unshelved Book Club comic strip for that we never finished.

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