Moms don’t fare well in children’s literature. In many books, main characters don’t have mothers or their mothers are static characters who remain in the background. When mothers play more prominent roles in stories, they are sources of conflict. If we tried to compile a list of the “Worst Book Moms” or “Motherless Characters” we could easily list ten in a few minutes. Characters with absent or flawed parents add dramatic tension and connect to young readers’ deepest fears and desires. Our relationships with our mothers color our childhoods and influence the adults we become.
We invited Nerdy Book Club contributors to reflect on their favorite book moms. Here are their top picks—each character loving, protective, and fiercely devoted to their children. Share your favorite book moms in the comments.
Mrs. Murphy in One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (chosen by Mary Ann Scheuer, @MaryAnnScheuer)
I sometimes find myself wondering, what does it mean to be a good mother? From a child’s perspective, what does a mother do? Wash, iron, make lunches? No, I really don’t think that’s it. A mother’s willing to fight for you, to stand up for you, to know when you’re down and can stop to listen. Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut novel, One for the Murphys, will touch kids, perhaps make them cry, but it will also start them thinking. What does it mean to stand up for your family?
Carley Conners has been taken from her mother after her step-father brutally beat Carley, and sent to a foster family. There’s so much anger swirling around inside Carley that she can’t let herself get close to her foster family, the Murphy’s. And yet, she finds herself watching this loving family, struggling to understand their unconditional love, and longing to be part of their family. Mrs. Murphy will make readers think about what a good mother is like – not necessarily always perky, but certainly always ready to listen, to think about her children, to fight for and support them. This is not a story with easy answers or a happy ending, but it is one that will make readers think about it long after they turn the last page.
Mary Ann’s full review: http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com/2012/05/one-for-murphys-by-lynda-mullaly-hunt.html
Sally Jackson from The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (chosen by Kevin Hodgson, @dogtrax)
“My mother can make me feel good just by walking in the room …. When she looks at me, it’s like she’s seeing all of the good things about me, none of the bad.” — Percy Jackson, of his mother, in The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
If ever there was a mother in a modern epic adventure who sacrifices for her child, it has to be Percy Jackson’s mother in The Lightning Thief. Not only does Sally Jackson literally give her own life to protect her son by putting herself between Percy and a raging Minotaur (and spur the entire adventure onward as he tries to bring her back from the dead from the Underworld), we learn that Sally had married Percy’s stepfather for reasons that have nothing to do with love and affection. No, she married “Smelly” Gabe Ugliano because it was yet another way to protect the demigod child of Poseidon from the fickle whim of Gods and the violent outbursts of monsters out of Greek mythology.
Later in the novel, Percy learns how Gabe was abusive towards Sally (although Gabe gets his due in the end) – a realization that has Percy seeing his mother in yet another new light and feeling even more guilty about her sacrifices for him. Sally Jackson is a mother full of love and insight, and stronger than even Percy first suspects. Her absence is the underlying current throughout the story. Like so many mothers in real life, Sally Jackson puts her own life on hold so that her own son can fulfill his own ambitions, and stay alive.
Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (chosen by Kate Messner, @katemessner)
Laugh if you want, but Molly Weasley is one of my role models when it comes to being a mom. It’s not just because I envy her housekeeping abilities (Who doesn’t have a secret fantasy of setting the dishes to wash themselves with just a flick of the wrist?) or because she has cool household gadgets (I really want one of those clocks that shows you where every family member is at any given time). It’s her love and her sense of balance. She loves her husband Arthur, modified-muggle-artifacts and all, and she’s a doting, if a bit over-protective mom to Ginny, Ron, Fred, George, Percy, Charlie, and Bill. She knows when her children need a hug and when they need to be sent a Howler. She knows when to hold them close and when to send them off to train dragons. And Molly Weasley has a sense for that balance in her own life, too. She understands that there’s a time for moms to be home knitting sweaters as well as a time for them to go forth and kick some dark wizard butt.
Thanks, Mrs. Weasley, for the inspiration, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Kathleen S. Allen also nominated Molly Weasley for best fictional mother:
My favourite book mom is Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series. She’s loving, yet stern. She manages a houseful of children, a husband and has a big heart. She even cares about children who are not her own (Harry for example and is concerned about his welfare). She is the epitome of the perfect mother and I aspire to be like her every day with my own children.
Marmee from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (chosen by Mindi Rench, @mindi_r)
My favorite book mom is Marmee from Little Women. From the time I first read the book when I was in about fifth grade, I wished I was one of Marmee’s girls. One of the things I love about Marmee is that she encouraged her daughters to be strong, independent women at a time when women were relegated to nurseries and kitchens. Marmee was gentle in her admonitions and exuberant in her celebrations, and no matter what, she loved each of her daughters unconditionally.
Unnamed Mom in Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (chosen by Brian Wyzlic, @brianwyzlic)
My favorite book mom, by FAR, is the unnamed mom in Love You Forever. Now, maybe she’s my favorite because the book came out when I was 2, and I have clear memories of reading this with my own mom when I was young. I don’t remember learning to read, but this is probably the book I was reading as I learned. So maybe my memories of my own mom and this book impact my decision. Whatever. I defy anyone to disagree with this mom being absolutely amazing. She instills such a love in her son. We know nothing else about their lives (aside from the mom being driven CRAZY). But we know there is love. That’s a mom I can appreciate
Thank you, Mom, for reading this book with me when I was younger, and planting the seeds both of Nerdy Book Club and of Love in my heart. Happy Mother’s Day.
Like Brian, I know that the best book moms are the real book moms who hold squirming toddlers on their laps and read to them, escort their children to the library, read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom twenty times in one day, and overlook it when their teenage daughter sneak reads Insurgent in math class (OK, that last one may just be me).
For many of us, we are readers because of our mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers of Nerdy Book Club! Thank you for working hard every day to raise readers.