Tell Me a Tattoo Story


Written by Alison McGhee, Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Chronicle Books, 2016

You wanna see my tattoos?

The plot in a nutshell: A father shares the stories of his tattoos.

The father points first to a tattoo of a dragon and tells his son that it is from his favorite book, which his mother read to him many times when he was young. He shows the ‘Be kind’ tattoo on his wrist and tells his son that it’s something he learned from his father that he always wanted to remember. The Ferris wheel on his arm reminds him of the day he met the ‘pretty girl’ who became his wife. He shows the tattoo from his time as a soldier in the Middle East and tells him how much he missed home. Then the boy points to the small heart on his chest with numbers that represent the boy’s birthday. The boy tells his father that the heart is his favorite and the father agrees.

Author Alison McGhee gives us a contemporary parenting story that works on a lot of levels. Looking at the cover, you might get the idea that the book is going to present a modern and hip family, covered in tattoos and living out an edgy ‘off the beaten path’ life. But whether the family is edgy or not doesn’t enter the picture, because the story focuses on the love they have for each other and the way that the father expresses the moments of his life in his tattoos. The book is entirely told as a conversation that we only hear the father’s side of, but as we learn more about him, it’s easy to see that this is a conversation he’s probably had with his son dozens of times.



Eliza Wheeler’s artwork in India ink with dip pens and watercolors is gentle and touching, giving everything in the story a warm and sentimental glow. As we learn about the tattoos, we glimpse into their past and learn more about the man, which is clearly why the son loves to hear these stories. There are little details that tell us more about the family if we look closely, such as Mom working while Dad does the dishes or the beautiful matching tattoos that they both have for wedding rings. It’s a wonderful story with lots of warmth and heart, providing much-needed representation for the ever-increasing number of people who are sharing their art and personal stories through the medium of tattoos.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are lots of ways to remember important moments in your life and it’s wonderful to share them with the ones you love.


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