Papa's Backpack

When a soldier has to leave his or her family for extended service, it's an emotional time for all involved. It can be especially confusing and upsetting for children, who long for the comfort and security of a parent's presence. Papa's Backpack honors the bond between a parent/soldier and a child, and acknowledges the difficult and emotional process of separation during deployment. A young bear cub dreams of accompanying Papa when he leaves on a mission, wanting to stay close to provide comfort and moral support, ultimately overcoming adversity together.

Format List Price Your Price Qty
$15.99 $15.99
$27.99 $27.99
Interest Level Grade 1 - Grade 3
Reading Level Grade 2
Dewey [E]
Lexile 410L
ATOS Reading Level
Guided Reading Level J
Language English
Publisher Sleeping Bear Press
Available Formats Hardcover (9781585366132), PDF (9781634704168), Hosted ebook (9781634704304)
Copyright 2015
Number of Pages 32
Dimensions 9 x 11
Graphics Full-color illustrations
  • 2016 ILA-CBC Children's Choices List, Winner, 2016

Foreword Reviews - Papa's Backpack

The separation of a military parent from his or her children can be very painful. This simple story about a young bear wishing he could ride in his father’s backpack as he goes to war is highly relatable and beautifully represents the fear and loss felt by children of military parents. The illustrations are rich in color and texture and tell a poignant story even without the text. The book provides families with an opportunity to share their emotions and support one another through a potentially difficult time. Ages 4 and up.

School Library Journal - Papa's Backpack

Papa’s Backpack begins with a thoughtful dedication to military families but becomes a much more universal allegory for separation by employing the simple symbolism of a child riding piggyback. Carroll’s use of spare and emotional language and earthy illustrations that play on contrasts and negative space expertly boils down and concentrates the confusion and longing a very small bear feels when separated from his Papa. The abstract nature of phrases (“We’d feel the sting, the twisted wind. We’d taste the angry rain.”) convey the feeling of conflict without specifics. Rather than ending with the question of Papa’s return, Carroll turns the focus back on the little bear who poignantly and earnestly reasserts that “if he could, he would” go too. The ambiguous nature of Papa’s journey makes this title uniquely applicable to many situations where a very young child and parent must be separated. VERDICT Carroll has created powerful work of stark beauty that honors the longing felt by those who must stay behind.

Booklist - Papa's Backpack

A young bear wishes it could travel along in its father’s backpack when Papa has to “go away for awhile.” The cub understands that Papa is a soldier and that he leaves in order to protect the cub. Maintaining a child’s perspective, the little bear expresses its sadness, imagines what the journeys are like for Papa, and then creates a miniature version of itself that really will fit in Papa’s backpack. For a child with a military parent, this story offers a thoughtful, poetic path toward expressing emotions. In this fantasy world, animals walk upright; carry sticks, not guns; and wear decorative feathers with sweaters and jackets, making the characters recognizable but not realistic. In swirling, rich colors, block-print-like illustrations add to the mystical effect. In one double-page spread, a group of animals walk along, heading toward conflict, on top of a land foundation inscribed with “Mother-Father-Daughter-Son-Sister-Brother.” The emphasis on family ties is powerful, echoing the bear cub’s wish to stay connected to Papa. Comfortingly rhythmic language and expressive images combine to create a memorable narrative.

Kirkus Reviews Starred - Papa's Backpack

Papa has gone for a soldier, and in poetic language, a bear cub imagines going along. Drifting into rhyme and out again the young narrator explains the situation thus, with an artfully placed page turn in the middle: “My Papa is a soldier, and sometimes soldiers go… / away for a while, to help for a while, so I can stay and play.” But wouldn’t it be fine to ride in Papa’s backpack, to be together all the time, “Me and my Papa, papa-papa-pa”? Like the narrative, the imagery in Carroll’s richly variegated, semiabstract art is full of oblique and affecting references. Between before-and-after scenes of a bear cub and an adult in a generic uniform jacket playing amid grass and flowers, a row of silhouetted animals carrying spearlike twigs march through barren country beneath a hot sun and then turn to face a lowering, bird-shaped black cloud. As the figures wave their sticks at the cloud, the language turns even more suggestive, if less childlike (“We’d feel the sting, the twisted wind. We’d taste the angry rain”). But then the desert storm is transformed to sunlight, the skies clear, and with a repetition of the opening lines, the two ursine travelers, exchanging loving kisses, make their way home. Heart-deep comfort for children of deployed soldiers, with resplendent illustrations. (Picture book. 6-8)

Publishers Weekly - Papa's Backpack

A small bear wishes he could join his soldier father while he is away. Carroll (The Boy and the Moon) places the bears in a kind of tribal society: they wear feathers on their heads and tunics decorated with spirals and stripes, and the bear’s fellow soldiers are a mixed-species outfit of spear-wielding rabbits, birds, and other creatures. Throughout, Carroll emphasizes soldiers’ nobility (“sometimes soldiers go…/ away for a while,/ to help for a while,/ so I can stay/ and play,” says the young bear), as well as the tenderness of the bear’s father. Rather than fighting their fellow animals, the warriors combat a giant bird that seems to emerge from a storm cloud. The effect is more akin to battling a dragon or the elements (“We’d feel the sting,/ the twisted wind./ We’d taste/ the angry rain”), which helps make the bear’s wish to accompany his father easier to imagine. Blending scratchboard-like textures with dense swirls of color, Carroll’s illustrations dazzle; the story itself is best suited for families who wish to recognize the importance of soldiers while shielding children from the brutality of war. All ages.

Author, Illustrator: James Christopher Carroll

J. (Jim) Carroll's work has been displayed around the world, including at the Leonardo da Vinci Museum of Science & Technology in Milan andat the United Nations in NYC. He has been an instructor at the School of Visual Arts and at the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art. His work has also been featured in Zoom, HOW, PRINT and Communication Arts magazines. The Boy and the Moon is his first children's book.

Narrator: Adam Weber

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Author/Illustrator biography
Full-color illustrations