We bring our own individual experiences, beliefs and aspirations to the stories we read. A parent might think Rabbit on the run is about a mother’s unconditional love and protection. A child might think, “Will she ever leave me alone?”
This Mother’s Day, we asked a handful of children’s book experts and writers what stories and characters come to mind when they think of motherhood. We didn’t say they had to to like the representations. But we also asked for their recommendations.
No Nieqa Ramos is an educator and writer of picture books and literature for young adults, including Best Picture Book Kirkus 2021 Your mom, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara. They found the mother in I love you forever “a lot a lot of goosebumps.”
Claudia Pearson is a retired litigator and graduate of Hollins University’s Masters in Children’s Literature program and author of Having a Carrot: Oedipal Theory and Symbolism in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny Trilogy. She has problems with Horton hatches the egg.
Rebecca Steinitz is a writer and book reviewer whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, Washington Postyou, and New Republic. She is a fan of mom characters who “don’t always try to fix everything”.
Cozbi A. Cabrera is the author and illustrator of the Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honor Book Me & Mom. She says the mother in her story “knows that a child is not an appendage of yourself”.
Rabbit on the run by Margaret Wise Brown
No matter how this little bunny imagines running away, his mom will be right behind him, even if it means turning into a fisherman, a tightrope walker or a wind. Since its first publication in 1942, Brown’s Rabbit on the run has never been exhausted. “I like to call him a stalker mom,” Rebecca Steinitz says, “I mean, this kid just wants to go out on his own and his mom follows him everywhere he goes.” Steinitz adds that, yes, “We want our children to stay with us forever and be by our side. But we know that as healthy, balanced people, part of our job is to let our children go out and live their life.” Claudia Pearson agrees, though she also thinks it’s “pretty much a job of genius,” because Brown opened the door “so parents feel like they’re reading a love story. and caring about their child as the child explores their own individual identity and how close or separate they are to the adults in their lives.”
Sweet dreams, little bunnywritten and illustrated by Leah Hong
Little Brown Books for Young Readers
When a little bunny’s thoughts keep him from falling asleep, his mother encourages him to use his imagination “to turn his thoughts into dreams.” NoNieqa Ramos recommends Sweet dreams, little bunny as “a new generation Rabbit on the run without the nagging mother.” She says, “we still have the soft, fluffy illustrations. But in her version, we have a mom who is a sure anchor pushing her little one out of her anxieties into a sea of dreams. Through a gentle dialogue, she guides him to find respite in his imagination and grow in autonomy and independence.”
Bread and jam for Frances written by Russell Hoban with photos by Lillian Hoban
Frances only wants to eat bread and jam at every meal. Rather than force her to do otherwise, her parents give her what she thinks she wants. But after four meals of bread and jam, Frances admits she might like the spaghetti everyone at the table is eating. “His parents allow him to follow this error of saying that the only thing worth eating is bread and jam,” explains Steinitz. “And then as soon as she asked for the spaghetti, they gave her the spaghetti and, problem solved by Frances. She solved it herself.”
I love you forever written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw
With notes from Rabbit on the runthe mother in I love you forever plans to put his son to bed every night of his life, even as an adult and in old age. This includes driving up to her house at night and using a ladder to climb up to her bedroom. “It’s a twisted book,” Steinitz says, though she admits she still recites the book’s chorus, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll love you forever, As long as I live my baby, you’ll be .” “Muy muy creepy,” Ramos says. But, like many mothers who read this to their children, Ramos says, “This book brought sentimental tears to my godmother for sharing it with me.” Ramos adds that the hip mom she created for her book Your mom “wouldn’t crawl through your window.”
Horton hatches the egg by Dr Seuss
Lazy mother bird Mayzie, tired of sitting on her egg, decides she needs a vacation in Palm Springs. She tricks Horton the elephant into doing it for her. Since Horton is “one hundred percent loyal”, he sits and sits, enduring bad weather, taunts, and all sorts of other hardships. Dr. Seuss’ bestseller has been analyzed through the prism of adoption and Christianity. Pearson takes issue with the entire shoot as a description of “what an expectant mother does while awaiting the birth of the child”. While Dr. Seuss “may have intended to give [mothers] congratulations,” says Pearson, “in the end he was basically slandering them by Mayzie the lazy bird, and only a man would do that because he would stay and do what needed to be done.”
Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verses by Walter Dean Myers
One of Cozbi A. Cabrera’s favorite Mother’s Day books is by the late Walter Dean Myers. brown angels, a collection of vintage photographs that Myers has collected over the years. Myers writes, “Seeing their faces scrubbed and beaming, seeing them dressed in their best Sunday clothes,” made him think of the “hard-working” parents and grandparents who took the time and care to celebrate their children, “despite the difficulties of their own lives. Cabrera says, “He could see the evidence of a level of care and consideration and also hope for what the future might bring to these incredible lives.”
Mom’s Hometown by Hope Lim
This story about a boy and his mother’s journey to her childhood home in Korea is a new favorite read for Ramos. The boy discovers that the city is not as he imagined. Ramos says when describing her own upbringing in the Bronx, “I’m talking about the parks, the ninety-nine field trips to the Bronx Zoo, etc. But when I brought my two suburban kids to the Bronx for my prima’s wedding they looked at me like i had two heads they started choking and said they couldn’t breathe i’m not kidding they felt what i felt , but haven’t seen what I saw. Ramos says: “Mom’s Hometown starts from the specific prism of Korean culture, but has the universal patterns of memory and perception.”
Maybe Days: A Book for Foster Children by Jennifer Wilgocki, Marcia Kahn Wright, illustrated by Alissa Imre Geis
“Living in foster care is usually not the child’s idea. Nor is it the child’s fault,” one page reads. Maybe days. Pearson calls it “a very moving book” that “does a great job of explaining difficult things to children who are separated from their parents”. Published in 2001 by the American Psychological Association, says Pearson, “One of the questions that children who are separated from their parents ask is ‘When can I ever go back to live with my parents?’ And how much they hate every maybe in their lives.”