The Bookworm: It's a dad, dad, dad, dad world

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood”

"Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood" by Matteo Bussola.

By Matteo Bussola

c.2017, Tarcher Perigee

$18/$24 Canada; 268 pages

Once, your life was filled with few cares.

Your days were breezy then, with parties, sleeping in, long weekends away, champagne evenings and chilled mimosas. Then you gave it all up, and in “Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast” by Matteo Bussola, you’ll see that it was a good trade.

It all started on a Saturday in January 2007. That was the day when Bussola and his wife, Paola, became parents of their first child, Virginia. Some four years later, Ginevra was born, and then two years after that, Melania entered the world.

There was “terror” on that first day, Bussola says; terror that he hardly knows how to describe, but that he recognizes is different for every father. One thing that’s common, however, is that “there’s the before, and there’s the after.”

It’s this “after” of which Bussola writes.

Being a father means looking for solidarity at a birthday party for little girls, and not finding it. It’s agreeing to have more than one child because “sleep, really, is overrated.” It’s being able to decipher what a toddler wants by what sounds like nonsense to anyone but her parents.

Matteo Bussola, author of "Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood."

All the frights you have on behalf of your children will shorten your life. You will see the adult she’ll become someday, and it’ll be bittersweet. The conversations you have with a toddler will widen your world and put things into perspective; being a hero in the eyes of your eight-year-old will cause you to do things you might’ve been embarrassed to do in another time. You will never forget the weight of a small head on your chest, or the wish that you could move without waking a sleeping baby. When your preschooler gets her first innocent kiss, you will think of barbed wire.

There are things you’ll learn as a father: the job “is brutal.” Stickers and kisses have a lot in common. Mothers don’t tell you half of these things.

And you will never be “the same person.”

Perhaps because of an overabundance of funny-dad books on the shelves today, I rather expected that “Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast” would be humorous.

It’s mostly not. In fact, there are times when the “reflections” in this book don’t seem to even have a point.

The reason, maybe, is because this book was printed in author Matteo Bussola’s home country of Italy a few years back. Was something lost in translation? Were the essays supposed to end abruptly? If they were, that can be awkward; just as I settled on a thought, it was over and onto the next thing. Yes, there were some “awwww” moments and a few teary sentiments here, but they seemed to be overshadowed by social-media-post-like, fleeting half-thoughts.

Heavy sigh.

Now, be aware that this book is not all bad; in fact, it gets better as pages pass, so try it, if you like, but just know what it is, and isn’t. You might enjoy “Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast,” or you may not care for it at all.

“Dad and the Dinosaur”

"Dad and the Dinosaur" written by Gennifer Choldenko and illustrated by Dan Santat.

By Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat

c.2017, G.P. Putnam’s Sons

$17.99/$23.99 Canada; 40 pages

You are the bravest kid you know.

Nothing is scary to you; you sleep in the dark, you cross the street without holding anyone’s hand and you’re not even scared of monsters.

Well, okay, maybe that monster thing, but as in the new book “Dad and the Dinosaur” by Gennifer Choldenko and Dan Santat, you’re fine as long as you have your safety-good-luck charm.

Nicholas was not a very brave boy.

He really wanted to be. More than anything he wanted to get rid of his fears of bugs and manhole covers and nighttime and everything else. He wanted to be like his dad, who wasn’t afraid of anything.

Only a dinosaur kept Nicholas safe and unafraid. It fit in his hand or in his pocket. He could put it under his pillow or tie it to his swimsuit. It was a very small dinosaur, but it was a great BIG help because, as everyone knows, dinosaurs are like dads: they’re not afraid of anything, either.

Nicholas put up a brave front. Everyone thought he was a fearless kid and life might’ve gone on just like that with nobody knowing his BIG secret. Things would have been fine, except for one problem: Nicholas lost his dinosaur.

He’d tucked it in his sock just before he stepped onto the soccer field. He thought it was there when he fearlessly kicked the ball right past the kid they call The Gorilla, a move that Nicholas’ mom got on video. Dad said Nicholas was “incredible,” but Nicholas was incredibly sad. He couldn’t find his dinosaur.

He looked. And looked. He crawled almost the whole entire field on his hands and knees until it got dark, but the dino was lost for good. What wasn’t gone were the same old fears – things the dinosaur kept away. How would Nicholas ever be able to sleep again? Would he ever be able to go outside in the dark? And how could he continue to convince people that he was totally fearless?

Dads fix things.

That’s what conventional wisdom would have you think: moms nurture, dads fix. But in “Dad and the Dinosaur,” your child will see that fathers bolster hearts, too.

The fears are real inside this cute picture book, and only one thing keeps them at bay: a fierce and powerful dinosaur, lurking in the shadows of the pages in which Nicholas needs him. The illustrations by Dan Santat are clear about the creature’s protections and kids will understand that completely, but beware! The illustrations might be frightening on their own, were it not for the story itself: author Gennifer Choldenko gives this tale the most heroic, most wonderfully understanding Conquerer of Fears, and that guy knows how to make things right. Don’t be surprised if it makes you melt, too.

While this book can surely be enjoyed by any 5- to-8-year-old, it appears to be more of a book for boys who idolize their pops. If you have one of those in your house, then “Dad and the Dinosaur” is scary good.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.