About the Holiday
Celebrating its third anniversary, National Tattoo Day gives us an opportunity to learn about and appreciate this very personal art form. It is believed that tattoos—dating back as far as Ancient Egypt—may have been designed for therapeutic reasons similar to acupuncture. Body art has long been associated with soldiers and sailors and saw a surge in popularity during the American Civil War and during World War II. Today people of all ages and cultures embrace body art as a way of self-expression. As today’s book shows, each tattoo tells its own story.
Tell Me a Tattoo Story
Written by Alison McGhee | Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
A little boy tugs on his dad’s T-shirt, wanting to see his tattoos—again. His dad sits down with his son and patiently goes through them, like the pages of a favorite book. In fact, the tattoo on his shoulder—a dragon flying above mountain peaks—is from the book his mom read to him in childhood. “Did she read it to him over and over and over? She sure did,” he says.
The elaborate design on the dad’s wrist reads “Be Kind,” advice his father used to give him. An intricate depiction of a carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel, fireworks, and flowers reminds him “of the day I met a pretty girl.” His son asks what made the girl so pretty, and his dad responds, “That’s a good question, little man. I’d have to say it was her smile.” In answer to his son’s wondering if he has ever met this girl, Dad looks at his wife and says, “You sure have.”
The tattoo picturing a globe and monument that covers the dad’s right side is from “the longest trip I ever took.” He reminisces—“Did I miss home while I was there?”—and confesses, “I sure did.” The last tattoo the little boy asks about is a small heart festooned with a banner that reads “7● 22 Two Thousand Twelve.” Father and son engage in banter that is most likely familiar to them both, with the boy asking the questions he already knows the answers to but loves to hear again and again: “Those numbers inside it? Just somebody’s birthday, I guess. Whose birthday? / Oh some little man I know, is all. / What do you mean, this one’s your favorite? This dinky little heart?” Then leaning in to learn a secret, the boy rediscovers that that particular tattoo is his dad’s favorite too.
Alison McGhee’s Tell Me a Tattoo Story is such a sweet, original homage to the love between father and son. The use of body art to reveal not only seminal events in the dad’s life but the trajectory of his child’s birth is inspired. The minimal text highlights the deep emotion, giving the boy in the story as well as young readers the information they are really looking for. The soft-spoken dad is such an appealing character—emotionally available, honest, and offering just the right tone of humorous repartee—for today’s family dynamic.
Beautifully rendering McGhee’s text into art, Eliza Wheeler creates a homey atmosphere that emphasizes the theme of the book while creating tattoos that are immediately accessible to children. The dragon tattoo could come from The Hobbit or Harry Potter, kids will recognize the fun and excitement represented by the Ferris wheel, and the little heart is simplicity at its finest. While the pages depicting the dad’s tattoos are minimally hued, the father’s reminiscences burst with color and details—providing an overall feeling of warmth and affection. The image of the dad in his military uniform over the hot, golden sands on “the longest trip he ever took” will bring a tear to your eye.
The originality of the story and gorgeous illustrations make Tell Me a Tattoo Story a must for children’s bookshelves and will become an often-asked-for read during quiet story times or for bedtime.
Ages Birth – 6
Chronicle Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1452119373
To discover more books for children and adults by Alison McGhee, visit her website.
To learn more about Eliza Wheeler, her books, and her art, visit her website.
National Tattoo Day Activity
Design Your Own Tattoo
Tattoos can be simple or elaborate, but they are always personal. They tell a story, commemorate an event, or reveal an emotion. What would your tattoo look like? Design your own body art on this printable Design Your Own Tattoo Template!