Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! is author/illustrator Nari Hong’s first book. Released in English in 2016, there is currently very little in the way of information or reviews about it online. I first came across the title in an article about the 2017 AFCC Asian Children’s Book Award by Genting Singapore (ACBA). Hong’s debut picture book was one of six titles shortlisted from over 245 entries – a very impressive result. As the book is not yet available via the usual channels, I ordered it direct from the publisher, Epigram Books (Singapore).*
I am so glad I did. Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! is a gentle, heart-warming story about a young girl’s relationship with her father. Unable to walk since birth, the dad regrets his inability to participate in certain activities with his daughter, like biking and skating. His daughter, however, is happy to spend time doing other things with her beloved dad.
Each scene in the book takes the form of a double spread. On one page, the illustrations depict children and their dads involved in an activity; on the opposite page, father and daughter are shown together away from the action. On the following double spread, father and daughter participate in an alternative activity in the same location. Instead of swimming in the ocean, they build a sand-turtle together; while other children go ice-skating with their dads, they go ice-fishing. I’m sure you get the picture!
In this way, we learn that Dad is a multi-talented individual. Each time he apologises to his daughter for his shortcomings, she reminds him that they can enjoy each other’s company in other ways. Through the daughter, Hong shows us the importance of focussing on Dad’s ability, rather than on his perceived weakness (i.e. disability). The fact that Dad’s wheelchair is absent from most of the illustrations reinforces this point: he is a man of ability.
The daughter is also keen to tell her friends how wonderful Dad is and why. I think this is one of the key messages of the book: the need to let others know about an individual’s talents and strengths, to empower them in the wider community. And what better way to communicate this message than in a children’s picture book? Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! is the perfect vehicle for young children to learn about disability, raise questions, and develop a positive viewpoint.
The overriding feeling in this book is one of positivity. Father and daughter share a beautiful bond. In most scenes, they are shown sitting close together, looking at each other, smiling; they are seemingly oblivious to the activities of other dads and children on the opposite page. Hong draws our attention to the pair, away from the action, reinforcing the strength of the father-daughter relationship. This is enhanced further when we remember that she is drawing on her own life story in this book.
The story has instant appeal for young children. It is simply told from the daughter’s perspective and the repetition of language and structure make for ease of reading and understanding. Children can identify with the daughter and the typical activities she engages in and thus develop empathy for her situation. The illustrations also have a important role to play in engaging a young audience. Hong’s hand-drawn artwork is imbued with warmth and affection. Put simply, the illustrations have that ‘feel good’ factor. As does the final message of the book:
“Sometimes you seem to worry about me,
But I’m just happy to be with you every day.”
A simple declaration of love from daughter to father, this is also a universal message: what children really want and need is to spend time with those they love. Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! is a beautiful picture book we can both learn from and enjoy.
Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! by Nari Hong (Epigram Books, 2016)
Also published under the title Days with Dad (Enchanted Lion, 2017)
Nari Hong is an author, illustrator, graphic designer and printmaker based in Seoul and London. She studied design at Goldsmiths in London where she fell in love with picture books. Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! is her first book and draws on her own life story.
As well as being shortlisted for 2017 AFCC Asian Children’s Book Award by Genting Singapore (ACBA), Don’t Be Sorry, Dad! was one of 50 outstanding titles selected in 2017 for the IBBY Collection for Young People with Disabilities.
[Edited on 11 June 2017 to remove the reference “disabled father” in paragraph 2.]
*Edit February 2018: Updated release date for original English version.