Thursday, May 6, 2010

12 Favorite Mothers in Children's Literature

With Mother’s Day approaching, I was thinking about the role the mother-child relationship plays in children’s literature. As we reach out in our writing to young readers, this mother-child bond often serves a significant purpose in a character’s life. It evolves, as children grow and change, allowing them to relate to the examples of mothers they meet in text.

It begins as an effort to evoke comfort for young children in picture books, such as the raccoon mother in The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. The mother eases the fears of her young raccoon going off to his first night of school by kissing the palm of his hand. Then, her love for him will always be with him. Or how about The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown? Just thinking about this cherished text stirs emotions about the mother-child relationship.

Then there are some mothers who are memorable in a different way for slightly older kids. Who can forget the character Sarah in Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall? She answers an advertisement to be a mother and a wife to a family that isn’t even her own. Consider Mrs. Weasley’s mothering of Harry Potter, who isn’t her child, either. The roles are not conventional, but are memorable all the same. Readers at this age begin to comprehend these non-traditional moms.

In texts for teens, the mother-child relationship becomes more complex. So much I could say, right? “Complex” is probably putting it lightly! This applies to Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, where the mother is too occupied by her career to notice her daughter’s plight. This same dynamic exists in both Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater and The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting. Then there's the shivery my-mother-wants-to-kill-me relationship in Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. As has been much discussed lately, there's a trend toward disfunctional parenting in YA lit.

I have to say that my personal favorite example of mothers and the relationship they share with their children is the tapestry woven in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. If you haven’t read this, get your hands on a copy and grab a box of tissues!

So, what’s your favorite book that creates a memorable mother character? What is it about this character that stands out? We’d love to hear from you!

Happy Mother’s Day,

Marissa

12 comments:

  1. Great question! I love talking about this because I love it when writers create stories where at least one parent (dysfunctional or not) is present in the story. (It's such a common convention to "kill off" one or both parents so the child protagonist can have the adventure alone.)
    So! My favorites: Marmee from Little Women. I love her combination of nurturance and spine, teaching her girls progressive values while still holding them to a high standard.
    The mother in Love You Forever (totally tearing up right now just thinking about it!)
    And of course Carl (from GOOD DOG, CARL) makes a wonderful "Mama" for his little baby. : )

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  2. Molly, that's a great point that so many books rely on single parenthood as an aspect in a character's life. I really hadn't considered this, but it's so true! Thanks for your comment and thanks for providing such great examples of moms in literature!

    Marissa

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  3. Many of Jamaica Kincaid's books have this recurring mother character (I believe she's based on Kincaid's actual mother)She's very powerful, exasperating, funny... she just totally captures the mother/daughter relationship in her writing.

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  4. CL, thanks for passing along this example! I will definitely have to look into Jamaica Kincaid's works. Powerful mother figures are a delight when they are done in an authentic manner!

    Marissa

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  5. I'll have to say that Mrs. Weasley is my dream MOTHER - as you said she treats Harry just like her own son. This is for a totally personal reason, though. I lost my own mother when I was 6, so grew up motherless. I always dreamt that somebody else's mother would bring me into the fold. That's why I got carried away in my own personal fantasy world from such a young age...those dreams sure give you comfort!
    YAY to imagination, dreams and especially MOTHERS who are willing to reach out to kids not even their own.
    YAY to Mrs. Weasley! - She's played by such an AMAZING actress, too!

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  6. Ann Marie, this is such a great testimonial to the power of children's literature. I am sorry for your loss, but touched that you identified with such a genuine character like Mrs. Weasley. Thanks for being such an avid, participant here in our little world!

    Marissa

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  7. I loved the mother character in the Ya Ya Sisterhood. A mom with lots of flaws and losses. Who knows the hidden stories our own moms have not told us yet? As always, a great post. And a sincere Happy Mother's Day to you two!

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  8. I love your examples. I posted on pretty much the same topic and my examples are very different! I think my favourite non-traditional mother is the team of Matthew and Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. Together they get it all right - tough, soft, strong and gentle. Their combined mothering helps Anne through so many adventures :)

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  9. Julie, I was thinking about Ya-Yas , too! Such a great read and so much about the mother-daughter relationship. I love that this book includes the "mother by proxy" examples, too.

    Jemi, we'll have to check out your post. There are countless examples and it speaks volumes that so many have resonated with us as readers. Let's hope to achieve the same in our own writing!

    Marissa

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  10. Dr. Murry (mom of Meg and Charles Wallace in A WRINKLE IN TIME), Meg Murry O'Keefe herself (mom of Polly O'Keefe), and Victoria Austin (mom of Vicky Austin). Love all of Madeleine L'Engle's moms.

    And Molly Weasley, of course.

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  11. Bqdell, more great examples of memorable mothers! What's not to love about Madeleine L'Engle? Thanks for your comment :)

    Marissa

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  12. The wonderful Kiera Cass, who wrote The Siren, told us via Twitter (@KieraCass), that Lily Potter is her favorite literary mom ever. LP's choices led to the entire HP series.

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