By Christine Lively
Today we’re delighted to welcome Katie Yamasaki to the WNDB blog to talk about Dad Bakes.
The connection between the father and child is so strong in the story. How did you decide to show that?
One of the ways that I wanted to share this relationship is in the things that they do. Because this father has been separated from his daughter, having been previously incarcerated, I wanted to focus on the way that we connect while we’re waiting because we spend a lot of our time waiting, and during that time, magic can happen in all the little moments. So, the baking allowed for this waiting time because of the time for the bread to rise, and then the time for the bread to actually bake. It is a parallel to the opening of the book when the daughter is waiting for her father to come home. In those moments while they’re waiting, they are doing things together – just like those little moments of life. There are so many stories of the big things that happen, but I think that so much of our lives are made up of the actual small moments, and I wanted to focus on that element of the wait.
The child in the story is so resilient and self-reliant. Was that important to show in the story?
Yes, I have worked with many children who have experienced their parents being incarcerated, and I also come from a family where most of my family on my father’s side were in the internment camps during World War II, and a lot of those family members were in the camps when they were children. Her character is developed in relationship to her environment. A lot of people would consider it a duality, but she has experienced a time when her father was away and she had to spend that time waiting for him to come back. She had to be able to do for herself in a lot of ways. You can see a lot of the things that she and her father do together are the things that make children self-reliant because she is actively participating. Often there are these binaries, where you have a good parent or you have a bad parent, or your parent is home or they are away, and that black and white narrative I think is really unhelpful in general. In working with people who have been criminalized, it can be particularly damaging because there is such a stigma that a lot of parents face when they return to their community. So, I think that showing how a kid can develop in a situation that many people would pre-judge as a negative situation is important. So I wanted to show her as someone who has grown and evolved in a positive way, to let go of the assumptions about what it might mean for her to have spent time without her father while he was incarcerated, so that they can be full characters.
I wanted to show that the father is much more than a formerly incarcerated person. I have worked with a lot of people in prison and outside of prison, and it becomes this singularly defining characteristic of who they are. I’ve done murals at Rikers Island with incarcerated mothers, and when the project is happening, what you see is that all of a sudden, the correctional officers are not seeing the women as, “You’re not just an inmate, actually, you’re a mom. What is your kid like? What is it like to be separated from your kid?” Or “What songs did you sing to your kid when she was a baby?” So you’re all of a sudden seeing the person much more as a complete human being, rather than just good or bad.
The story comes through in your beautiful pictures. How did you decide on the scenes to show and colors to use?
In terms of color, it’s a matter of just letting this family have this kind of rich life to show the way that this father created their home. First, he’s a gardener — full of life and full of growth, so the plants show that growth. Also, he is a baker, which shows he’s somebody who uses their hands and somebody who waits for things to grow — who can be patient and wait for things to bake.
They like to play. They like to watch TV. They like to read books — just the ways that we all like to spend time together. I like the vignettes because there’s something in there that every reader can relate to. I did want to show all things that take time. The concept of time is so huge in the topic of incarceration — the passage of time. So I wanted to show ways that they spend time together where they’re really together.
In the beginning of the book when she is waiting for her dad to come home, she is also making good use of her time alone. She eats cereal, reads the cereal box, and is comfortable in her own company. That is something I try to cultivate in my own daughter – helping her enjoy her own presence by herself.
The author’s note adds so much context and meaning to the story. Why did you decide to put it at the end of the book instead of the beginning?
I definitely decided to put it at the end of the book because people who are incarcerated face so much judgment — there is literally a judge. I think parents in particular are judged — about 75% of women in prison at any given time are mothers and a high percentage of the men in prison are fathers. I wanted the reader to experience the story and to experience the father character, in particular, just as a father first. Now, even with terminology, people say incarcerated person, and why don’t we say “man who is incarcerated?” I wanted to show the whole character of the father before people could have the opportunity to pass judgment on him.
Also, I know the author’s note is very dense, and I wanted to give the very young reader, who might not have a concept of prison, the opportunity to just watch this relationship, and maybe they don’t need to know just yet that it’s about a father who is incarcerated. I think everyone can relate to the idea of waiting and they can relate to the idea of missing someone, so at the beginning, she’s reading letters from her father and she’s looking at pictures. If we don’t connect to the idea of a family member who is incarcerated, maybe we connect with the idea of missing somebody and knowing what it feels like to wish you were in the loving presence of somebody who is really important to you. I hope that will come through.
Katie Yamasaki works primarily as a muralist and picture book creator. She has painted more than eighty murals around the world, and her most recent book is Everything Naomi Loved. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their daughter.
Christine Lively is a librarian at Wakefield High School in Virginia. She writes a monthly column for the Teen Librarian Toolbox blog of the School Library Journal about teens who fight the system to change their world. Christine is a Certified Life Coach for Young People ages 14-24 at christinelively.com. Christine lives in Fairfax, Virginia with her family and hound dog Gabi where she raises monarch butterflies, knits, and collects hippos of all types. You can follow her at XineLively on Twitter and Instagram.