Kid's Stuff -- Books About Mommies
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"A Special Day For Mommy"
Written by Dan Andreasen
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
(Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004)
Hilarious! The gender-balanced follow-up to Andreasen's earnest A Little Help From Daddy is a much more puckish and witty work. A little piglet girl "surprises" her mother (possibly for Mother's Day, though the text doesn't pin it down, could be a birthday, too...) The daughter brings Mom breakfast in bed (Cheerios) and spills milk all over, and though the Mom is all beaming smiles and appreciation, she also winds up cleaning up the mess, when the little girl isn't looking. This pattern continues all morning long: the girl brings Mom some flowers (by ripping up her flower beds) and makes her a sweet card (spilling glue on the floor) and makes jelly sandwiches for lunch. My girl laughed out loud and cackled with glee at the page where the piglet says "Yuck! I'm all sticky, Mom!" and the next day she said she thought it was funny. This book celebrates impishness in girls, while also maintaining a sweet, sincere emotional underpinning. Good artwork, good text -- the story is simple and clear, and the humor works both for little kids and their beleagured (but loving) parents. Recommended... If it hits you right, you'll love it. (A)

"Anna's Book"
Written by Barbara Baker
Illustrated by Catherine O'Neill
(Dutton, 2004)
A little girl has a new favorite book, and wants her mom to read it... again and again and again. Her mom's kind of busy, so she finally disengages, after which Anna takes over and reads the book herself... again and again and again... (Yay, happy ending!) It's a nice, simple story... At first we weren't really wowed by it, but it has since become a favorite... the kind of thing that gets requested again and again, as a matter of fact. Plus, anything that's pro-book propaganda is fine by me. Hate the sequel, though. (See below.) (B)

"Red Light, Green Light, Mama And Me"
Written by Cari Best
Illustrated by Niki Daly
(Orchard Books, 1995)

A sweet story about a young girl named Lizzie who goes to work with her mother, meeting mom's co-workers and seeing her daily routine. The fact that Mom works as the children's librarian in a big downtown library makes this an even more special story for budding young bookworms. Nice art and a charming first-person narrative, with a light tone that reflects the cheerfulness and exuberance of a happy, well-loved child. Works as a mommy book, a work book, and as pro-book propaganda. What more could you want? (B+)

"Momma, Will You?"
Written by Dori Chaconas
Illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher
(Viking, 2004)

A lovely, well-written book in which a small child asks its mother if she will do various things -- milk the cow, catch a wren, etc. -- and the mother replies yes, or no, or maybe. The layout is nice, with clear, realistic paintings of the family in various situations, and better yet, the writing is very strong. Chaconas has a bouncy, playful rhyme structure, and all the rhymes work (which, strangely enough, is not always the case in children's picture books...) The text gently explores the role of parental decisionmaking, demonstrating how you can say "no," and make it seem okay. It's maybe a little too didactic, but I liked it. And yes, this is yet another idyllic book set in a farmyard, but the payoff balances it out, even for us city folk. Nice content, nice presentation, fun to read. (A-)

"Mama Loves"
Written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
(Harper Collins, 2004)

A nice concept, nice art, a little rough structurally, though. This is a rhyming book about all the kinds of things a cool mom likes to do with her kids -- cooking, gardening, playing outdside, etc. The trouble, though, is that the text is written in the first person (so that the mom likes to do these things "with me!") but the artwork shows six little children-piglets and has her doing different things with each child. There's no coordination between the artwork and the text (to tip readers off which kid is now suddenly "me") and, worse for readers, the rhyme scheme is pretty wobbly and weak -- Dotlich never finds a consistent meter, and I found this text pretty difficult to get read. Other than that, though, this is a nice mommy book -- a bit icky-sweet, but not too much. Worth a try! (B-)

"Are You My Mother?"
Written by P. D. Eastman
Illustrated by P. D. Eastman
(Beginner's Books, 1966)

A newly-hatched little bird tumbles out of the nest, in search of his errant mother... He asks the other animals if they... Oh, heck, you know the drill. Why bother with the plot summary!? This is one of Eastman's best books -- it reads well and is a perfect story to practice your funny animal voices. Plus, I've always loved Eastman's artwork, and this plucky little bird is one of his most memorable characters. One of the best of the faux-Seuss Beginner's Books... All this, and a cuddly, happy ending, to boot! Highly recommended... a winner! (A)

"Home To Me, Home To You"
Written by Jennifer A. Ericsson
Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
(Little, Brown & Company, 2004)

Mom is coming back from a long business trip; back home, the stay-at-home dad and three children eagerly await her return. Contentwise, this book is nice for modern families, and it also models some good behavior (kids cleaning up after themselves, etc.) Its structure is more troublesome, though, flipping between the daughter's point of view and the mother's, as each goes through their day, anticipating their eventual reunion. I'm not a big fan of split-screen, dual narrative books -- it's hard for a reader to make them work, and I'd prefer to use my "explaining mojo" on the story itself, not the way the story is being told. Still, the emotional message rings true, and for families that are in similar situations, this book may seem like a revelation. Worth checking out. (B-)

"Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild"
Written by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt, 2000)

Little Harriet, a toddler on the three-ish end of things, has a tendency to be a little accident prone, spilling juice, breaking a plate or two now and then, and she can also be a kinda loud at times. Her work-at-home mom, "who didn't like to yell," finds her patience taxed until, one day Harriet and the family dog play tug of war with a pillow and send feathers flying all over the place. Mom blows her stack and yells and yells and yells, causing Harriet to burst into tears. Then they make up, and the mom explains that she didn't mean to lose her temper, but sometimes that just happens, the same way as Harriet's little accidents. It's a really sweet book about parent-child communication, discipline and negotiation, although smaller readers may find the parent's anger (and the baby crying as a result) to be a little upsetting. At the heart of this book is the wonderful, detailed artwork from Marla Frazee (of Everywhere Babies fame)... Recommended! (A-)

"A Present For Mom"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Dana Kubick
(Candlewick, 2002)

A sweet, sappy story in which Stanley the kitten, the youngest of four children, worries about what to get his mom for Mother's Day. The older kids are giving great presents -- flowers, a box of candy, a cake -- but Stanley's only little and doesn't have any money to buy stuff or know how to make things himself. Finally, with a suggestion from his siblings, he decides to give his mom a box full of kisses, which of course makes her melt into a warm, happy puddle. It's sappy, maybe even saccharine, but it's gonna bring a tear to your eye, whether you like it or not! (B+)

"Tell Me My Story, Mama"
Written by Deb Lund
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Harper Collins, 2004)

A little girl chirpily asks her mother to tell her the whole story of how she was born, prompting her at every turn for the details she knows by heart. In the end it turns out that mama is expecting a new baby soon and reassures her girl that while the new baby will have its story, "You'll still have yours." This is a really nice book; other than their getting caught in a blizzard the day of the birth, the story elements are mostly universal to all readers (except same sex and single parents and homebirth-ers) and the undercurrent of humor and warmth is quite nice. This humor is mirrored in the artwork which adds great details, such as the mom chowing down late at night while still pregnant and the dazed, loopy look on the father's face after the baby is born. Lots of smiling on everyone's faces, making this a very happy birth story... There are several pages of their being in doctor's offices and at the hospital, which may seem intimidating, but in the context of the book, there's really no anxiety attached. Great book... recommended! (A)

"Mama Will Be Home Soon"
Written by Nancy Minchella
Illustrated by Keiko Narahashi
(Scholastic, 2003)
A young girl's mother takes a trip for a couple of days, leaving the child in the care of her loving grandmother. The girl doesn't want her mom to leave, but is reassured when mama promises to be home soon, and tells her to look for her yellow hat when she returns. For several pages after that, the girl walks around town seeing various yellow objects -- dresses, flowers, umbrellas, balloons -- and getting excited thinking they are her mother coming back, then deflated when they're not. The subject matter is welcome -- I'm a stay-at-home-dad who often has to deal with my daughter wishing mommy was home -- but the text is rather clumsy. The dramatic timing of the script could be far more economical and fluid; as it is, the same device is used several times in a row with little variation in tone... Also, couldn't the mama and grandma have explained things better? The little girl provides the book's narrative voice, and she certainly sounds mature and self-aware enough to understand the concepts of "tomorrow," or "not today, dear." Despite the emotional primacy of the subject matter, my attention wanders when reading this book, as does my daughter's. Results may vary.

"Don't Forget I Love You"
Written by Miriam Moss
Illustrated by Anna Currey
(Dial Books, 2004)

Another bear book. This one explores emotional transitions and daily rituals: a mama bear gets her daydreaming little boy ready for school, but when they start to run late, she drops him off quickly, accidentally forgetting to leave his favorite toy Rabbit, and also forgets to tell Billy she loves him and will pick him up later. Billy cries, because he expects the ritual goodbye, and also because and he feels bad that his dawdling made them late. Mama Bear, realizing her mistake, comes back and makes Billy feel better. A sweet book with good humor and a happy ending, and lovely artwork. The emotional life of Billy is quickly and deftly drawn, and given the respect is deserves, while also showing how exasperating it can be to herd little children around... A compassionate sketch of the emotional relationships between small children and their caregivers... Recommended! (A)

"The Daddy Book"
"The Mommy Book"
Written by Todd Parr
Illustrated by Todd Parr
(Megan Tingley Books, 2002)

These happy, friendly, brightly colored, cartoonish books sing the praise of playful, goofy parents, with equal time given to each gender. The simplicity and directness of the artwork is similar in its impact to the "Maisy" books, as is the plain, declarative writing. Parr's work hints at a hipper world view, however, with dads that do housework and moms who ride rad-looking motorcycles. The Daddy Book is probably the most significant of the two, since it depicts fathers engaged in what are (sadly) still considered unmasculine activities, such as vacuuming and baking cookies. The Mommy Book scrupulously offers an equal-time version of almost exactly the same activities, although dressing up and shopping are two mommy-only events not seen in the other book. There is a teensy, almost imperceptible bit of bias in favor of dads, notably when a mom is seen singing and the kids frown and wince, as opposed to the big grins seen in The Daddy Book. This is really nitpicking, though: this series is patently and explicitly "politically correct" (or "progressive," if you prefer), and quite nice for trying to introduce not only so many social roles, but also a wide range of activities for kids (and parents) to consider. Most important, they are cheerful and fun to read. I'd recommend them for kids under one year old -- once they can fully see color, they'll love this bold, vibrant artwork. (Parr has a bunch of other books, which I haven't checked out. Some, like The Peace Book, seem a little too ooey-gooey for me...)

"My Mommy Is Magic"
Written by Carl Norac
Illustrated by Ingrid Godon
(Clarion, 2007)

A gem. Although the companion book, My Daddy Is A Giant is kind of a dud, this mommy book really rang true... at least it made my wife cry when she read it with our kid! Simple text and large, expansive illustrations combine to magical effect, describing a mommy who chases away monsters, shares secrets, and who can even part the clouds and make the weather nice by wearing her pretty summer dress. Nakedly sentimental, yet artfully done, this celebrates the bond between parent and child in an imaginative, evocative style. One of the best I-love-my-mommy books you'll find. (A)

"When Mama Gets Home"
Written by Marisabina Russo
Illustrated by Marisabina Russo
(Greenwillow, 1998)

A young girl with two older siblings waits for her mother to return home from work... The children all have chores to do to help prepare for supper, and when mom gets back, she finishes the meal and they all sit down together and talk about their day. Then the mother puts the little girl to bed. A simple, engaging narrative, with a warm, subtle, unapologetic look at single parenting... No mention of the mom being single is even made -- it's just how things are, and it's not presented as a problem. A cheerful family book that shows a complicated, real life situation without making too big a deal of it. Recommended! (B)

"Mama Talks Too Much"
Written by Marisabina Russo
Illustrated by Marisabina Russo
(Greenwillow, 1999)


"Mommy In My Pocket"
Written by Carol Hunt Senderak
Illustrated by Hiroe Nakata
(Hyperion, 2006)

A sweet going-to-school book about a little girl bunny who wishes she could shrink her mother down to doll size and take her with her to school. (The sight of the mama bunny's ears sticking out of the girl's pocket is delightful... Love Nakata's artwork!) The text is a little choppy, but the sentiments are wonderful, and may inspire similar solutions for parents whose children are going to school... Perhaps sending them off with a photo or keepsake of some sort to help remind them who's waiting for them at home... ? A lovely book for parents and children... and people who like bunny rabbits! (B)

"Jonathan And His Mommy"
Written by Irene Smalls-Hector
Illustrated by Michael Hays
(Little, Brown & Co., 1992)

A young boy and his mother like to take walks together and walk silly walks -- zig-zags, backwards, hopping, crisscrossing each other's legs, etc. Monty Python would be proud! The setting is urban, but the tone is joyful and bright; also includes passing references to hip-hop and reggae, for the musically inclined. The text has a nice lilt to it, with a genuinely childlike tone, as Jonathan tells us about taking a walk with his upbeat, playful mom. Nice to read aloud, with lively, realistic artwork that was probably painted working from photos. Worth checking out. (B)

"How Do You Know?"
Written by Deborah W. Trotter
Illustrated by Julie Downing
(Houghton Mifflin/Clarion, 2006)

Waking up on a foggy morning, a little girl asks her mother where the world has gone... Mom takes her out for a walk and shows her that everything is still where it was, even if they can't see it all through the mists. The child asks the mother, But how do you know it's there? A curious book, I suppose, about both faith and tangible reality, about a child's trust in their parent's knowledge of the world, and about a child testing that knowledge. It's also about a mother and child on an adventure, exploring nature together in the misty magic of a foggy day... The text is well-matched by the dreamy pastels of San Francisco-based illustrator Julie Downing -- nobody knows fog quite as well as Bay Area natives! (B)

"Once There Were Giants"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Penny Dale
(Delacorte, 1989)

What? I wasn't crying or getting all teary... honest! Here's a book with a little girl who grows from being an infant surrounded by "giants" (her parents and family) into a toddler, a child, a schoolchild, an athlete, and young woman, and -- ultimately -- into a "giant" herself, with a baby of her own. It's a real three-hankie weeper; if this one doesn't getcha right in the gut, then you've got a heart of stone. This book also boasts beautiful artwork that ably supports the text -- you see the little girl grow right before your eyes -- and Penny Dale's depictation of the young tomboy's pugnacious side (when she's seen scrapping with her older brother) will ring true for anyone who grew up in a large family. A very nice book, although on some level it may have been written a bit more for the benefit of parents than for children. (A)

"Owl Babies"
Written by Martin Waddell
Illustrated by Patrick Benson
(Candlewick, 1992)

A trio of baby owls are left alone in the nest while their mother searches for food. The eldest cheers the other two on, while the youngest cries for its mommy. I never thought much of this book until separation anxiety started to set in with our baby, and she liked to have it read over and over and over. Guess that's why it's in every book store in the country! A nice, simple story that deals with a primal emotional issue; nice artwork, too.

"Miko: Mom, Wake Up! Let's Play!"
Written by Brigitte Weninger
Illustrated by Stephanie Roehe
(Penguin-Miniedition, 2004)

A suuuuper-cute little mouse-boy wakes up on the early side and shows mercy when his mother asks him to let her sleep a little while longer... While she's dozing, Miko prepares a little snack, sets up some toys and finds Mom's favorite picturebooks... When he does finally wake her up, she is charmed by his thoughtful efforts and they begin a really nice morning together... The story has a lovely, light touch, but the artwork is what will clinch it for you. These are really cute books, and Miko is the kind of readily-identifiable, instantly iconographic character that little kids will fall in love with right away... But not in an icky, Disneyesque way... Trust me: you will like these books. (A)

"Mama Always Comes Home"
Written by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Brooke Dyer
(Harper Collins, 2005)

A sweet book dealing with a child's separation anxiety, when Mama goes off to work... The book first shows numerous animal moms -- cats, birds, dogs -- all going off on necessary errands -- getting food, catching worms., etc. -- and coming back to soothe their worried children. Finally we see a human mother leaving for work (with a stay-at-home dad waving bye-bye!) and coming home at the end of the day, just like she said she would. The writing isn't quite on a par with Wilson's best books, but the message is still welcome... Working mothers may find this book very useful. (B)

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