Did you know that Mother’s Day started as a religious – specifically Christian – holiday? Apparently it was a time when churchgoers would return to their ‘home church’ for some sort of special festival (according to History.com). Of course, then secularists/heathens took over and decided it was a good time to celebrate the women who actually gave birth to them. Flowers, candy, and all that sort of thing.
So what better way to tie Mother’s Day and books together than talk about awesome moms in literature? Specifically in kid’s literature (kidlit). Because great mothers in kidlit aren’t nearly as present as they should be.
(Awesome) Moms in Kidlit
Parents don’t play major parts in kidlit for a reason. Often times kids do (or don’t do) something based on anticipation of their parents reactions, or in reaction to something the parents have said…but they’re not really a true part of the story. The little boogers wouldn’t be able to get up to half the stuff they do if parents were actually present! So from a plot standpoint, it’s very convenient for parents to not be present. I get that. And I also get that when they are present, if one of them is going to be involved in the story line, it’s probably going to be the dad. Because dads are action heroes, adventurous daredevils, and mad scientists. Moms are for snacks, cuddles, and (oft-necessary) reassurance or scolding as need be.
Well, because that’s the way it has been. And that’s a really sucky answer to that question. But it’s true. Book daddies are the knights in shining armor for their daughters, and the role-model for their sons. They are brave and strong and smart and the leaders of the house. Except when they aren’t.
It’s when they aren’t that things can really get fun.
Sometimes writers are brave enough to make mom the star of the show, if just for a little bit, and those stories are almost always memorable. After all, while we all agree that Arthur Weasley was a very nice, brave man, who can forget “Not my daughter, you bitch!” from Mrs. Weasley? I mean, is there a single quote from Mr. Weasley that anyone remembers nearly as well? (Those of you who have whole Harry Potter books memorized don’t count!)
One of our favorite series in this household is The House of Robots by James Patterson. Now, Mom (Dr. Elizabeth Hayes-Rodriguez) gets very little page-time in general. The dad is definitely the parental unit that is most present in the book. However, Mom is off-page a lot because she’s doing Very Important Things. Things like building robots that enable Maddie (who suffers from a severe immunodefiency issue) to have a normal life. She’s very ‘mad scientist’ without the evil connotations. She’s also the head of Robotics at Notre Dame and well-respected all around (except for the purposes of certain books plots). Dad is cool too, of course, but in a different way.
Another (often-overlooked) mother is Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. Yes, the spider. Think about it. Before Charlotte even officially became a mom, she was an awesome mother-figure to Wilbur. And as a stand-out lady? She could hatch a plot (hehhehheh) to protect Wilbur, spell large words -which not even some adults could spell correctly – and teach him to become the best pig he could be. She was always around and always doing her best for first Wilbur and then to give her own brood the best start possible. If that’s not a good mom, I don’t know what is.
It seems like (and here I’m not necessarily talking about mothers in kidlit, but in fiction in general) it’s easier to corrupt the thought of mother than it is to pay homage to the awesomeness it can encase. Take Coraline, for example. Neither of the mothers in that tale come across in any positive way. The normal mother is distracted, curt, and weary. She isn’t able to pay her child the attention it needs, but doesn’t seem to be involved in any truly important work either. And then there’s the Other Mother. And the less said about her, the better. Coming full circle back to Harry Potter, one only has to glance at Petunia Dursley to see everything that a mother should not be.
We need more fantastic moms in middle grade fiction. Moms who, even if they aren’t a major part of the story, still stand out as being something other than mom. They’re fierce, brave, independent, intelligent and sometimes outrageous. Or even simply more moms who are simply obviously doing something for their children beyond the expected. Like Percy Jackson’s mother, who stays with the stinky, horrible stepfather because his presence helps hide Percy. Its not a sacrifice you can truly appreciate until you’re a bit older, but it is a sacrifice nonetheless. We don’t need moms that are perfect, or held to some unattainable degree of perfection due to their absence (generally from death). We need moms who have tempers, who mess up, who aren’t just “Mom”, who can admit when they mess up and still do their absolute best for their children anyways.
We need moms (and dads!) that nestle down deep in young reader’s minds to stay until they’re needed. That come out at the right time when the young readers are adult readers who are contemplating (or unexpectedly dealing with) being parents themselves. Parents that they can pull out when examples around them are scarce and say “I want to be that kind of parent.”
Because the parent who is human, who errs and admits it, who gets down on their child’s level, who does their best to teach them to be unafraid to be themselves… The parent that lets their kid mess up, who teaches their kid to get back up, dust themselves off and try again… Hell, even the parent that just shows their kid by example that you can be stern and loving at the same time… Those are the kind of parents we need.
Who is your favorite awesome mom in kidlit?