Being a mom in fiction is a rough deal. If you haven’t been killed off to make way for the Evil Stepmother, you’re probably wasting away with illness. Or hopelessly out-of-touch, like Coraline’s mom. Or, like Eloise’s, simply absent from your child’s life.
There’s a good reason for these tropes. Much great literature for children is focused on the child, and the child’s ability to solve problems for herself, or grow into an adult role. Removing adults, especially mothers, from the story often provides the space and motivation for children to have these adventures. You’ll notice that it’s much more common to be an orphan in literature than it is in real life.
As Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown put it in their excellent book, “Packaging Girlhood,” “As in children’s literature, myths and fairy tales, these books also tend to show parents are useless or dead. Perhaps this is a common concept because mothers are so important to children; however, it also means we rarely see good mothers represented.”
While there are many wonderful stories that focus on children who have been separated from their parents by death, boarding school or a serendipitous fall down a rabbit hole, it’s refreshing to be able to share a tale with one’s daughter that doesn’t fall into these stereotypes.
Flashlight Worthy Books recently posted a lovely list of stories in which children connect with their moms. I’ll be watching for these titles at the library.
I note that these are all books for Very Young Children. I wracked my brain a very little bit, and can think of almost no Good Mothers in literature for older kids or young adults. A few of L.M. Montgomery’s books, and Little Women. I hope that as my daughters and I grow through their childhoods, we’ll find many more images of powerful moms to treasure in our library.