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