March 27

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Who’s THE BEST MOTHER? How a picture book can be a mystery and a search for truth by C. M. Surrisi

I practiced law for 28 years before I decided to do the thing I always longed to do, write books for children. Being a super planner, and a lover of school, I headed for Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MFA program in writing for children and young adults.

 

During my time in the program not only did I find fun adjectives again (they don’t use a lot of those in legal briefs). I had to examine my “voice” as a writer. I have always been drawn to picture books and middle grade novels, especially mysteries. I’m a firm believer that all stories are mysteries because at their root, they ask a question.

 

I soon recognized that a theme in all of my stories had to do with the pursuit of truth.  My middle grade mysteries, The Quinnie Boyd Mysteries: THE MAYPOP KIDNAPPING (Lerner 2016), VAMPIRES ON THE RUN (Lerner 2017), A SIDE OF SABOTAGE (Lerner 2018) ask my young sleuths to figure out “who done it,” which by necessity requires them to discriminate between real and obfuscating clues. They must sort and sift information in search of the truth, and in the process, they question themselves and others, and gain self-assurance and maturity. And perhaps, most importantly, they persevere in seeking the truth even in the face of repeated failure.

 

This theme has surfaced again in my picture book THE BEST MOTHER, where Maxine, who is weary of being told every morning to brush her teeth and comb her hair, decides that she needs a new more accommodating mother.

 

Her current mother cooperates in this endeavor by escorting Maxine to her desired search sites: the park, the toy store, and the zoo. Mom watches from a distance, ensuring Maxine’s safety, as she interviews a variety of women for the position of new mother.  In each interview she poses questions that compare the candidate to her old mother.

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, her evaluation process spurs a cognitive analysis that highlights the finer qualities of her old mother, who, upon reflection, is more flexible and fun loving than the strangers. This recognition is solidified when Maxine observes the animal mother-child relationships at the zoo.

 

I find it very satisfying that Maxine raises the question on her own, investigates and pursues the answer on her own, and concludes on her own that her old mother is the best mother. Mom allows this investigation, yet is watchful. Mom even, playfully turns the tables on Maxine’s at the end, giving the investigative process an extra boost of meaning, and they both get closure at the end.

 

Diane Goode’s illustrations captured the character and meaning of the story in the most charming way imaginable. I am forever grateful to Tamar Brazis for putting my words together with Diane’s Illustrations. From the moment I first saw them, I knew that Maxine couldn’t have looked any other way. And thanks to Nick Oleson for creating the book trailer which animates images in the book in a way I never thought could be done, and perfectly highlights the story’s feelings. And a very special thank you to Nerdy Book Club for premiering the trailer right here.

 

 

In closing, I ask everyone to consider mysteries when searching for books that fit into a discussion of fake news and truth seeking.

 

C. M. Surrisi is a full time writer of children’s books. She lives in Mendota Heights, MN with her husband and two rascal Cavalier King Charles spaniels Sunny and Milo. Her books explore relationships between kids and parents, raise the question of discerning the truth, and are filled with mystery, heart, and humor with a fun, ironic twist.