Tattoo Stories : Family History, Not Just for Photo Albums

Tell Me a Tattoo Story

Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee. 9781452119373. 2016. Gr PK-2.
Responding to his son’s curiosity, a father tells their family history through the stories behind each of his tattoos.


Tattoos have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, when I was younger, tattoos were only for soldiers, gang members, convicts, and biker chicks.

Then, when I was in my 30s, a group of friends from church were talking about what we would do if we found out that we had only a short time left to live—something that we wouldn’t otherwise do. This attractive, smart, classy, older lady said she would get a tattoo.  And I thought, If Vida would get a tattoo, so can I!”

The hardest part of getting a tattoo is deciding what design to get. I didn’t want a design that would embarrass me later; it had to symbolize something that would always be important to me. And the most important things to me are my faith, my children, and my family.

Sparrow close-upWhen I was 38, I got my first tattoo to celebrate my faith.  Matthew 6: 26, one of my favorite Bible verses, says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” A favorite old hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” puts this verse to music. So my first tattoo was of this sparrow, nesting on a crown of thorns.

Dragonflies close-up


My second tattoo came twelve years later and celebrates my boys. Neither boy is really the flowers and butterfly type. They loved superheroes and spaceships and animals, especially slithery, creepy animals like turtles, lizards, snakes, and spiders. And as much as I have grown to like most of those things, I didn’t want them on my skin. So I used dragonflies and cattails (two of my favorite things) to show Alex’s and Nathan’s active and curious nature.

Comfort close-up

Eighteen months later, I was getting my third and latest tattoo. With all my ancestors hailing from the Netherlands, I knew I wanted something with tulips—and maybe a windmill.  But something was missing, something also tied my Dutch church heritage. Then, at my Dad’s funeral, we recited the first question and answer of our catechism:  “What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” And I had the missing piece.

Since my mother recently passed away, I need to make an appointment with my tattoo artist to plan my next tat—something to do with sewing or reading, maybe. And love, too. Especially love.


Here are a few books for older students who might be planning their first tattoos.

Expressing the Inner WildExpressing the Inner Wild : Tattoos, Piercings, Jewelry, and Other Body Art by Stephen G. Gordon. 9781467714679. 2014. Gr 7-12.
Read about the tradition of piercings and tattoos in some African cultures, as well as intentional scarring, and how these things are used to express different ideas and inner feelings and emotions. This book also talks about celebrities around the world who wear unique clothing, strange tattoos, or body piercings.

Science InkScience Ink : Tattoos of the Science Obsessed by Carl Zimmer. 9781454912408. 2014. Gr 10-Adult.
In 2007 Carl Zimmer wrote on his blog that he had heard about scientists who had science tattoos under their lab coats, and asked if anyone would share theirs. Since then he has posted hundreds of tattoos from scientists and students from all disciplines who shared their art and the stories of their obsessions. This excellent book combines science, art, and literature.

InkedInked by Carey Hart. 9781579653354. 2008. Gr 9-Adult.
Full-color photographs of tattoos, with people telling the stories behind their art.




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