Review – Melissa Higgins’ The Night Dad Went to Jail, What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail

dad-jail-1

Melissa Higgins’ The Night My Daddy Went to Jail, What to Expect When Someone You Love Goes to Jail is a children’s book that tells the story of a young bunny nicknamed Sketch.  Sketch is a young boy whose father, whom he loves deeply, is taken to jail and sentenced to six years in prison.  Sketch must deal with the painful reality of witnessing his parent being taken away in handcuffs, dealing with peers mocking his pain and a major change in his family dynamic.  Higgins uses a book full of colorful pictures to explain the steps that a child goes through when their parent has gone through prison.  The book covers most topics (arrests, social workers, bullying, visiting prison, etc.) as honestly as possible while remaining sensitive to the age of the reader.  While using a bunny to remain neutral to race and ethnicity, it also helps the child empathize with a character that they can relate to in the form of fantasy.

The only real true criticism lies in the gray area that this book finds itself settled in.  How much is too much to share with a child, especially a child who has seen and experienced so much already? While Higgins’ walks this gray area beautifully through the majority of the book, there were certain spots where I think she could have gone a step farther.  The best example of this was when Sketch saw his dad placed in handcuffs.  While the explanation for what was happening was kind, it isn’t true to reality.  Most children are left without any commentary from police when these incidents happen as they are trained to wait for a social worker.  I am glad she mentioned Sketch being fearful of the police arresting him and explaining what is happening, the idea that one of the officers would stop in the middle of an arrest is not realistic.  I applaud her attempt to help the child not fear the police, addressing this part of what happens could have been more useful it if was more in-line with reality.

A note of caution to adults hoping to use this with young children, one slight issue I have with this book is some of its use of vocabulary, especially in its definitions section.  While I believe challenging a child’s reading comprehension skills is crucially important, I do not believe this book was the forum to try and introduce words that young readers may find challenging.  A 7-year-old who is given this to help cope with the new realities of their life and/or family dynamic shouldn’t have to stop and ask “what does the word ‘enclosed’ mean?”  This book has a higher purpose then promoting language skills, and I think it would help the child to read from beginning to end so they can be fully engrossed in the experience.  An easy resolution to this is reading this with a child can help by explaining to them certain words beforehand.

 by Alina Requena

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3 Comments

  1. Liz T

     /  February 19, 2014

    This book is a good example of something normally intended for children, but really I think, means much more for older family members. It is also an important book, especially on being as neutral as possible and allowing young readers and parents to follow footnotes that provide more real world information on how to deal with the situation. Reactions from adults when this book first came out in 2011 seemed to range from shocked to relieved that parents and family members have this story to share if they are compelled to do so. And as beneficial as it can be for parents, I am curious how well this story can help children cope and how relatable it is for them. I hope it makes a difference in making a child feel a little less isolated after reading it.

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  2. Mylanie

     /  February 26, 2014

    I actually really like the sound of this book. A family member getting arrested and incarcerated is scary no matter how old you are, but as a child the whole process can be extra confusing and upsetting. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids growing up with a parent in jail and a tool like this might help them cope and process the experience in a healing way.

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  3. Jolene H

     /  March 4, 2014

    I am excited about this book. As a former elementary school teacher, I know the difficulty of finding books for children that speak about things outside the typical normative stories. There are always books about privileged children in a normative family with shallow plots. But few children have those types of lives. Instead, children of all walks of life face many deeply difficult situations.
    From my perspective, children gravitate towards books that deal with real life tough situations. These books comfort them by validating the struggle. Books that address real life-without shying away from difficult subjects-can give children words to use when they try to speak about their own life struggles. Thanks for sharing about this exciting resource!

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