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Tell me a Tattoo Story review

I learned about Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler) on Nick Patton’s Picturebooking podcast. I knew all about the storyline and the author before I ever held the book in my hands.

And still, when I read the book to Lu and Bean for the first time, I got all misty-eyed. I had to pause dramatically, like a soap opera actress, looking far into the distance to compose myself. Only I wasn’t acting.

The character development and storytelling in Tell Me a Tattoo Story is so rich using so few words. The book begins with a young boy asking his father to tell him about his tattoos. The father walks his son through all of his favorites—tattoos that remind him of his mom, his dad, his wife, his time abroad and, lastly, the boy himself.

It was the spread depicting the father’s time serving abroad in the military that really got me. He’s in a desert, holding a picture of his wife, marching with his head down in a row of soldiers with their heads down. “Did I miss home while I was there?” he asks. “I sure did.” Wheeler’s illustration is so realistic and moving, and I love the decision to honor veterans and to recognize tattoos as an emotional connection to their service.

I also love that the family in this book isn’t your typical picture book family—a dad covered in tattoos wearing a white cotton tank top and a mom with an asymmetrical hipster haircut. And quite frankly, I’ve never seen present-day soldiers or veterans even hinted at in a picture book before. I think a lot of families are going to see themselves in this book.

In summary, you and your child will love this book if you:*

  • Have a tattoo
  • Don’t have a tattoo
  • Are a veteran
  • Care about people who are veterans
  • Are a hipster
  • Care about a hipster and/or need inspiration for a new haircut
  • Are easily brought to tears and/or enjoy being melodramatic

Find Tell Me a Tattoo Story at your local library, an independent bookstore or on

*This list is not exhaustive.

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