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The Picture Book Buzz

Unicycle Dad - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

This picture book, based on real life, is a heartfelt exploration of the value of dreams and perseverance. It is a wonderful ode to families and single dads.

Book cover - the torso, arm, and legs of a dad riding a unicycle, with a backpack on his back and a doll under his arm.

Unicycle Dad

Author: Sarah Hovorka

Illustrator: Alicia Schaub

Publisher: Amicus Ink (2024)

Ages: 5-9



Single fathers, poverty, family, and determination.


Sarah knows her unicycle-riding dad is special--even as Sarah cooks, takes care of her brother, and does homework on her own. When her dad finally graduates from high school, gets a second job, and eventually lands a promotion, Sarah realizes there's so much more that's special about him. Unicycle Dad shares the inherent struggles and quiet joys of a single-parent, impoverished household. Raised by a single, teenage father in poverty, author Sarah Hovorka grew up in a family structure lived by many but seldom represented in children's books. Illustrator Alicia Schwab captures the story with warm, expressive art.

Opening Lines:


When Dad first starts pedaling, the unicycle pitches

forward and the wheel slides backward—whoops!—until

he gets going and za-za-zooms up and down our street

like a flying bird.

I want to soar like that, too.

What I LOVED about this book:

This book doesn't pull punches. Alicia Schwab's opening illustration puts the reader firmly into a poorer inter-city neighborhood. We shortly learn that Sarah's dad is a single father who is working both at a job and to get his GED. I love how the text and the illustration work together to weave in the close family connection, love, and Sarah's admiration for her dad in this book based on Sarah Hovorka's own childhood.

Internal spread - a dad riding on a unicycle while a boy runs on the sidewalk and a girl swings on a chain-link gate.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Alicia Schwab, 2024.

When Sarah tries to ride the unicycle and plops to the ground, her dad brushes her off and reminds her “It only takes perseverance, Sarah. Keep trying until you get it.” This philosophy on life and the desire to soar to new heights runs through the book and is modeled by her Dad as he overcomes multiple obstacles to his goal of progressing in his job and improving the family's finances.

Although he gets his diploma, Sarah's dad doesn't get the raise. So, he starts a second job, the neighbor becomes their babysitter, and many tasks fall to Sarah. Alicia Schwab does a great job of quietly introducing the neighbor in the illustrations. An observant reader will be able to piece together a bit about her family life as well.

Internal spread - on the left, vignettes of boy and girl with the father, the babysitter, trying to get dressed, and reading in a blanket fort. On the right the girl is trying to do homework, while her younger brother flys a toy plane around the table.

Text © Sarah Hovorka, 2024. Image © Alicia Schwab, 2024.

Even as the book explores some of the hard work and loneliness which Sarah, her brother, and their dad endure, there are moments of humor and affection which make their efforts worth it and the ending all the more sweet and celebratory. The "Whoosh!" and the wonderful yellow swoops and stars prominent in the opening, as Sarah watches her dad soar on his unicycle, reappear in a grand way at the end. This is a realistic, honest, and encouraging story of a family situation rarely represented in picture books. A heartfelt ode to dads and families and the power of perseverance and resilience in overcoming obstacles.


Photo of a unicycle puppet craft.
  • make an easy unicycle puppet or maybe two.

  • ever see someone ride a unicycle? Watch this Cool Unicycle Performance by Kids in Taiwan.

  • in one of the illustrations, there is a family "Chores chart" on the fridge. Do you have assigned chores, too? Whether you do or not, write a list or make a drawing of things you do to help out around your house.

If you missed my interview with Sarah Hovorka and Alicia Schwab on Monday, find it (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions and resources see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Leslie Goodman
Leslie Goodman

I was only a short way into your review when I made a note to stop at the library after work today to find this book. I love that the father sets such a strong example of perseverance. What a great book to share with kids to set them on a strong path to success.

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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