March of the Penguins (2005) is the first film I can think of that informed mass numbers of children about the important role fathers often play in the natural world. They learned that male emperor penguins care for their young while the mothers go out in search of food. Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse came out before that film (2004), and now it’s newly available in a board book edition. The author-artist is a master of distilling information into its simplest form. Here he exposes an entire undersea community in which fathers care for their unborn offspring.
Mrs. Seahorse lays her eggs in Mr. Seahorse’s pouch, then disappears from the pages. Ever after, it’s Mr. Seahorse protecting his offspring in his pouch while communing with other caretaking fathers in his travels. Mr. Stickleback, a fish, guards the nest he built, where Mrs. Stickleback laid her eggs. Toddlers can see the eggs that Mr. Tilapia keeps in his mouth (therefore he cannot speak but Mr. Seahorse tells us what's happening). Eggs are clearly visible on the belly of the pipefish, Mr. Pipe, and (my favorite), on Mr. Kurtus’s forehead. Transparent “windows” in a few of the board book pages fill in the reeds, coral reefs and seaweed that offer camouflage to other sea creatures. (Eric Carle described how he creates his collage artwork in a recent interview.)
Mister Seahorse is a great way for toddlers to learn about another approach to “child-rearing” in nature, and curious older siblings will scamper off to read more about fascinating creatures such as the Kurtus nurseryfish. It’s a great conversation-starter about the important role both parents play in child-rearing.