Sunday 21 June 2015

Father's Day: The Best Dads in Middle Grade Fiction

Today is Father's Day in the UK, and a number of our wonderful team have each selected their favourite father from middle grade fiction (no prizes for guessing which fab dad might appear twice on our list).

Sophie Reid: Mr Weasley from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling 

It would be hard for me to complete any list like this without a Mr Weasley mention and he was the first MG dad who came to mind. We don't meet Mr Weasley until the second book, but we already know a bit about him - namely that he has enchanted a muggle car to fly. Mr Weasley's reaction to this is hysterically different to Mrs Weasley's, and we soon learn how different the pair are. Mr Weasley is obsessed with Muggle technology and gadgets, desperate to learn the function of a rubber duck, and how planes stay up. Although he is the easier going of the Weasley parents, he still cares deeply for all his children - and Harry, and treats them all just the same, no matter what. I am grateful that J.K. Rowling decided to save Mr Weasley from his death!

Twitter: @sophs_3

Aoife Walsh: Mr Bagthorpe from The Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell

I don't even know what to say about Mr Bagthorpe. He's the best character in this series, which genuinely makes him one of the best characters in books anywhere. He's pretty much explicitly bipolar which is interesting, but also egotistical, aggressive, frustrating, anything but affectionate to his family, and yet the one you more or less end up gunning for against all the others. He describes himself as 'the Archetypal Can-Carrier of All Time.' I would love to think that one day I might write someone as funny as Henry Bagthorpe.

Kieran Fanning: Mr Hughes from Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The opening lines of Dylan's diary are: 'My dad, right - ask anyone this, they'll all say the same - my dad can fix anything. Toyota. Hyundai. Ford.' But later Dylan admits, 'it's not just cars.' And how right he is. While on holidays, Mr Hughes rushes back to the caravan for a kettle of boiling water to warm up the sea for his children. When renowned local Ninja Turtles fan, Daft Tom holds up the Hughes' filling station in a balaclava and Ninja Turtles bicycle helmet, Mr Hughes doesn't call the police but offers Tom sweets and eventually a job. As a result, Tom turns his life around. 'So that's another thing Dad fixed - he fixed daft Tom.' Mr Hughes biggest challenge comes when the family face a financial crisis, but with the help of his kids, Mr Hughes does what it takes to make things right. Frank Cottrell Boyce does the father/son relationship brilliantly in Millions and Cosmic, but Mr Hughes will always be my favourite of Boyce's literary dads.

Helen Clark Jones: Mr Horten from Small Change for Stuart and Big Change for Stuart, by Lissa Evans

Stuart Horten’s dad is ‘quite old’, outlandishly tall and permanently distracted by his job of writing difficult crosswords. And he’s incapable of using simple language - going for a walk is a brief perambulation and breakfast is a morning repast – all delivered at full volume. Stuart’s dad is frankly embarrassing.

Stuart’s struggles to understand his dad and his flowery language are a source of much humour and the wordplay is rich and interesting. But when Stuart and his dad find themselves trapped inside a magical maze, it’s only by teaching his dad to speak words of one syllable that will get them out. It’s a clever and funny scene where Stuart’s frustrations are replaced with the understanding that his dad’s over the top language is a part of who he is; panic when it looks like this trait might have gone forever and finally relief when Mr. Horten returns to ‘the usual mad long stuff’ that Stuart doesn’t understand. It’s an empathetic and gentle moment in a fast paced adventure that shows funny books aren’t only for laughs.

Tatum Flynn: William, in Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

As Dahl famously declared, all children deserve a parent who is SPARKY - and William is certainly that. Many MG books sideline adults, so DANNY, which is really a tale of a boy and his dad's loving and fun relationship, makes a lovely change. These days, taking your child along on larcenous expeditions to poach peasants would probably get you called out by Child Protective Services, but this book is a delight, and as a child I adored how furious William was with Danny's nasty teacher, how they shared midnight feasts, and how they got one over on the dastardly Mr Hazell.

Piers Torday - Mr. Brown in the Paddington Bear series by Michael Bond

Henry Brown isn't Paddington's dad and in fact is at first the most resistant to taking the Peruvian orphan in. His status as serious bowler hatted city bread earner of the family is undercut from then on, delightfully and charmingly, by the marmalade chomping newcomer's antics. But although he is teased, and Paddington himself often"saves the day" after causing the chaos to begin with, the ponderous and bumbling but ever tolerant Mr Brown is always there as the ultimate safety net for our hero's adventures.

Sophie Plowden - Caractacus Pott in the Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang series by Ian Fleming

Best dad? I’d have to say Commander Caractacus Pott, charismatic inventor of what also happens to be the best car in children’s literature, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Ian Fleming wrote the book for his son, so I like to think of the Commander (with his cool gadgets and high speed getaways in his astonishingly versatile vehicle) as James Bond’s eccentric relation. He’s since had a make-over by Roald Dahl and Frank Cottrell Boyce, but for me he lives on through his fatherly advice: ‘Never say 'no' to adventures. Always say 'yes', otherwise you'll lead a very dull life.’ 

Ruth Fitzgerald - Dizzy's Dad in Dizzy by Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy writes great dads. I love Daizy Starr's mad dad in the Daizy Starr series, he jacks in his teaching job and follows his dreams, one crazy scheme after another, none of which ever work out successfully. Or Scarlett's lovely dad, who tries so hard to stay patient and suppotive in the face of her rebellion. However my favourite Cathy C. dad is Dizzy's. He is a single parent looking after his daughter while her mum goes AWOL for eight years. He makes her cheese on toast and milkshake for her birthday breakfast and worries about school and swimming galas. Without spoiling the plot, he really doesn't desereve all the anguish he's put through!

Kate Mallinder - Big Dave from A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson

Big Dave isn't Dan's biological father, but throughout Dan's journey to understand why his dad left, Big Dave is there and the bond the two form by the end of the story is incredibly moving.  It is brilliant at showing how families can work when they've got step-mums and step-dads.  It also makes it crystal clear to children that their family, which may feel like a bits and pieces family, is perfect for them, and if they are having problems, never to give up hope.

Harry Oulton - Danny's dad from Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

He has got to be the best dad ever. He's loving, he's just irresponsible enough that Danny feels grown up, and he's a modern day Robin Hood. Perfect dad. Poachers are way sexier than Gamekeepers, and when Danny devises the perfect way to poach, his dad is really proud of him. He made me want to be a dad.


  1. Rats. I've only read one of those. I have to agree, Mr Weasley is a fabulous Dad, reminds me a bit of mine. As I recall, the rubber duck was in the film, in the book it was, IIRC, a plug. He collected them. :-)