Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me, written by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier, tells the simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting story of a boy who confronts his father’s absence from his life. The book is the winner of the 2014 Coretta Scott King illustrator award for Collier’s powerful depiction of the narrator’s yearning and hope for his father’s return. It is based on the author Beaty’s own autobiographical emotions after his father’s incarceration.
Throughout the story, the narrator struggles with missing his father and the implications his father’s absence might have in his future. “Papa, come home,” he says, “when I get older I thought you could teach me how to dribble a ball, how to shave…” The narrator remembers the comfortable and close Knock Knock game he used to play with his father each morning, and the ways his father helped shape his childhood. “I want to be just like you, but I’m forgetting who you are,” the narrator calls out to his father in a particularly expressive scene.
While his father doesn’t return, he does so in the form of a letter to his son that is full of advice and love “for every lesson I will not be there to teach you.” He communicates to his son powerful lessons about independence, strength of character, and hard work: “for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you.” This book deals with complex and powerful themes by expressing them in simple and meaningful language, getting in touch with the narrator’s emotions, and balancing the saddest moments with the most hopeful ones. It is an important narrative for any child struggling with the loss of a parent in any way, and knowing that even if someone isn’t physically present, it is still possible to feel that person’s love and advice.
Collier’s award-winning illustrations, made of watercolor and collage, blanket each page with intricate city architecture, lifelike sketches of the narrator’s family and home, and overlapping prints to show the many shades of emotion the narrator experiences. This work is especially integral as the illustrations are what shows the reader that the narrator did, in fact, grow up and take his father’s advice as he entered the world on his own.