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,