Mother’s Books

With Mother’s Day coming up next month, we’ve been thinking about mothers in books. There are plenty of mothers in picture books, but they are rarely involved in children’s novels; I remember reading an essay by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (sadly, I can’t find it online—it was in the March 2009 Horn Book Magazine) in which she argued that mothers are just too protective and too likely to take over, denying the kids their adventures. There’s a crossover novel, Boneshaker, in which a teenage boy goes into a zombie-infested city to discover the truth about his father and grandmother. His mother goes in after him. It’s really her book. To have their own books, children often are orphaned, or go to boarding school, or run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the interesting thing is that even when the mother is absent, she is loved. Think about Harry Potter: he never stops thinking about his mother, whom he can barely remember. Or one of our books, Mama’s Window—Sugar’s mother has died, but Sugar fights to keep her dream alive. Or one of my childhood favorites, Angel Child, Dragon Child, in which the children have moved to the United States but their mother is staying in Vietnam until they can raise the money for her to join them. The little girl has a photo of her mother, kept safe in a matchbox and nestled beside the crayons in her desk.

What books make you think of mothers, whether she’s present in the story or not?

5 thoughts on “Mother’s Books”

  1. This is a really interesting topic. One of my dissertation chapters addresses the comparative mothering of adoptive and birth mothers in transracial Korean adoption young adult books. Similar to your comment on Harry Potter, although most of the birth mothers were absent, they were talked about in particular ways, and comparing was possible even in their absence.

  2. What a great topic! I’ll be mulling over this one for a while. The book that comes to mind most readily is the YA novel Sold by Patricia McCormick. Lakshmi adores her Ama and longs for her after she’s sold to a brothel. It’s partly the severed bond between Lakshmi and her mother that makes the story so heartbreaking.

  3. Here are two of my all time favorite picture books which are all about mother and child relationship. THE RUNAWAY BUNNY (Margaret Wise Brown)
    Also A CHAIR FOR MY MOTHER (Vera Williams)

  4. For younger readers, I love “Mama Do You Love Me?” by Barbara Joosse and “The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Slippers” by Dubose Heyward. Older readers, there’s “You Don’t Know Me” by David Klass, the you in the title is his mother. “Homecoming” by Cynthia Voigt (and sequels) deal with the aftermath of mother abandonment. And almost any of Amy Tan’s novels deal with struggles between mothers and daughters.

  5. As children grow they start having adventures outside of the parent umbrella. A number of Asian chapter books envelope family relationships (incl moms) such as Grace Lin’s wonderful Year of the Rat, Year of the Dog. Kira-kira, Project Mulberry have moms in the picture. Also enjoyed Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z with mom/grandma and Garden of Eve where the absent mother has an underlying role.

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