Boats for Papa


Written and Illustrated by Jessixa Bagley

Roaring Brook Press, 2015

Buckley and his mama lived in a small wooden house by the sea.

The plot in a nutshell: A beaver makes gifts for his absent father.

Buckley loves to collect driftwood, which he uses to make boats. He wishes he could share his boats with his papa, whom he misses very much. On Buckley’s birthday, Mama gives him paints and brushes for use in making boats. He makes a special boat for Papa and attaches a note that reads, “For Papa. Love, Buckley” and he sets the boat in the water, telling Mama that he will know Papa has gotten the boats if they don’t come back. He keeps making boats, attaching notes and sending them out to sea. On his next birthday, Buckley is about to send out his boat when he realizes he forgot the note. He runs back to the house and looks into Mama’s desk to get some paper. Inside are all the boats he’s sent to Papa. Buckley sits quietly and thinks, then he returns to the sea and sets his boat in the water. Mama tucks Buckley into bed and goes down to the shore to get the boat, which she sees has a note that reads, “For Mama. Love, Buckley.”

This absolute gem of a book is a very impressive debut from author/illustrator Jessixa Bagley that touched my heart and had me blinking back tears from the first read. Right away you notice that Ms. Bagley has taken the perfect approach to this story, taking us right up to the edge of emotion without ever straying into maudlin or overblown. We don’t know why Papa is not in their lives anymore, making the story and its characters broadly applicable to anyone who misses anyone, with an underlying message that the ‘why’ of missing someone is not important. I absolutely love the quiet way that Buckley absorbs the knowledge when he finds the boats in Mama’s desk. That simple and poignant scene holds a lesson for everyone who reads it.

Buckley's boats

Have someone in your life who looks at you the way Buckley’s mama looks at him.

The pen and watercolor artwork shows us the love between these characters and the simplicity of their lives together. There are beautiful colors in the sunsets and the seascapes and it’s wonderful to see the pictures on the walls of their house, showing their lives with Papa and without him, yet again illustrating that life does go on and you can make it work with time and love. It’s so cool that we get to see Buckley’s boat-making skills improve by leaps and bounds as he makes boats, not only showing the passage of time but also serving as a metaphor for his growth as a person. This brilliant and touching book is a must read.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that while you miss the people who are not in your life anymore, you can always value those who still are.


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