Boats for Papa

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Boats for Papa Book Poster Image
Tender, moving story about boy and mom dealing with loss.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Models effective ways to deal with loss: connect with loved ones, create things. Since the story takes place over a year, from one birthday to the next, there's the implicit message that grief takes time.

Positive Messages

When we feel loss, it's helpful to connect with loved ones. Though we miss those who are gone, there are still people who love us. Creative activity helps. Adjustment to loss and grief takes time.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The boy deals with his loss by making things. He tries to connect with his dad by sending him the boats. The mom tenderly cares for the boy. The boy recognizes his mom's care.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jessixa Bagley's Boats for Papa is a touching treatment of loss. Buckley, a beaver, lives cozily with his mom by the sea, but both miss the boy's dad. Since it's never directly stated where Papa has gone, this book is appropriate for a variety of absences, but the strength of the sadness and permanence of the loss suggest he's died. Buckley makes boats for Papa and sets them in the sea, and after a year passes, he decides to make a boat for his mom, who's cared for him throughout. The treatment is gentle, with the death implied, and the relationship between Mama and Buckley is warm, connected, and healing.

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What's the story?

In BOATS FOR PAPA, Buckley, a little beaver, misses his dad, so he collects driftwood to make boats and sets them in the water with notes attached. He assumes that if they don't wash back, Papa's received them, but the reader sees Mama finding the boats and wrapping them up. When Buckley discovers the boats in Mama's desk, he writes a new note of love to her.

Is it any good?

In this tender, understated tale about loss, Bagley never spells out what happened to Papa, but the quiet sadness felt by both Buckley and Mama suggests he's died. Buckley and Mama have a loving life together by the sea, and Buckley busies himself collecting driftwood, which he carves into elaborate boats with notes to Papa. Mama's sad, too, stepping outside to gaze at the night sea, but she creates a loving home for Buckley. Healing comes from their connection and from creation; Buckley throws himself into planning and crafting intricate driftwood boats and looks happiest when working.

The quiet accumulation of detail makes this a powerful, moving tale: The family pictures on the wall include ones with Papa, and the endpaper shows Buckley adding a boat to the display of all he's made, a time line of his grief. Young readers may be confused about exactly what happened to Papa, but they'll apply the story to their own tender situations.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about loss. Are there people or pets that you miss? How long did it take you to feel better?

  • Do you think it's possible to have a connection with people who are gone? Do you ever want to make things for or write to people you miss?

  • What do you think about Buckley's driftwood boats? What do you like to make?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and family stories

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