Four New Faves Celebrating Mamas and Grandmas
May 5, 2022 § 6 Comments
(Warning: I put on my most matronly dress to rage at the patriarchy.) Ouch, it’s a tough week to be a woman in this country. A tough week to contemplate the future for our daughters—and, let’s be honest, our sons, since a woman’s right to exercise autonomy over her body has always been inherently linked to the opposite sex. To say nothing of the repercussions SCOTUS’ decision will have for Black or Indigenous populations, or those living below the poverty line, or the precedent this could set for overturning protections for the LGBTQ+ community. We have only to dig into history to see that progress is never a straight line, but it’s one thing to recognize this and another to live it, to watch the work of generations collapse in a single moment. The list is growing long for horrifying things I never expected to witness in my lifetime.
Now, here we are, staring down Mother’s Day, an already complicated holiday for those mourning mothers, mourning children, mourning dreams of having children—and a day that now feels even more loaded, weighed down with the understanding that a woman’s body can be at once celebrated for its childbearing and stripped of its rights.
This is a cheery post, eh? Don’t worry, I promise we’re going to talk about some beautiful, uplifting, joyful books in just a second.
Yes, it’s a tough moment in history to be a woman. But, let’s not kid ourselves: it has always been a tough time to be a woman. Voting rights, equal pay, maternity leave, working outside the home, the right to wear pants, for crying out loud: the list for what women have been made to suffer is endless.
And still, I love being a woman. I love being a mom. I love following in the legacy of the curious, courageous, complicated women who raised me. When the fear of raising a daughter creeps in during times like this, I remember the strength of my own mother and grandmothers. My mom, who suffered the greatest heartbreak imaginable in the sudden death of my father at 51 and rallied to step into roles and master tasks she’d never imagined for herself, for the sake of her teenage daughters. My one grandmother, who for years endured physical pain without a word of complaint, because she didn’t want to miss out on a single family activity. My other grandmother, who attended science lectures in her 90s where she was the only woman, not because she knew anything about the topic, but because her own children and grandchildren’s involvement in the world had inspired her to expand her mind.
Today, I’m highlighting four new picture books that star formidable mothers and grandmothers—the kind I aspire to be, the kind who remind me that we will not go quietly into the night. Not when we know better, not when we’ve learned from the best. (You can also refer back to some older posts for favorites, like this, this, this, and this.)
Let’s Do Everything and Nothing
by Julia Kuo
When my kids were younger, sharing picture books was my go-to for resetting. I don’t just mean redirecting my kids’ energy; I mean altering my own mental state. About to implode from listening to them bicker over possession of a green crayon? Cue storytime. Staring down dinner prep after a particularly tedious day? If I could manage to read just one picture book, life seemed doable again. There is something about glimpsing the world in the pages of a picture book, about the bodily contact (and quiet!) that storytime invites, that reminds me, Oh right, this mothering gig is actually pretty awesome.
The lyrical, aspirational, gorgeously rendered Let’s Do Everything and Nothing, by Taiwanese American creator, Julia Kuo, is the Ultimate Mothering Reset, a book that temporarily melts away crankiness and recalls us to delight in togetherness. Know someone having a baby? This is my new favorite baby shower gift. Know a mom who needs the occasional picture-book-pick-me-up? This intimate, poetic ode from mother to daughter will deliver every time.
Will you climb a hill with me?
Dive into a lake with me?
Read the starry sky with me
and watch the clouds parade?
We’ll scale the highest snowy peak,
we’ll grasp at creatures of the deep.
We’ll follow trails on summer nights
and salute majestic beasts.
A mother and daughter move through the natural world together, delighting in discoveries. But equal emphasis is given to the quiet moments back home: on the stairs, in the bath, cuddled in bed. Motherhood is nurtured in the big and in the small.
The digital artwork is as transcendent as the verse: the orange-navy palette connoting a dreaminess, the spare backgrounds highlighting the centrality of the two figures, the expressive line work accentuating moments of closeness and touch. (Is it any wonder Kuo also illustrated my favorite book of 2016?)
Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle
by Nina LaCour, illus. Kaylani Juanita
My husband has travels periodically for work, and especially when my kids were little, I attempted to move time along with special dinners (“Mommy, don’t forget, we have ravioli when Daddy’s gone”), breaks from routine (staying late at the park!), and opportunities for Facetime. Such is the theme of Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle, by Nina LaCour and Kaylani Juanita, where an only child weathers a week-long absence of one of her parents. It’s a tender, big-hearted story that any child who has ever missed a parent will relish. The fact that it centers a biracial family with same-sex parents is icing on the cake.
Structured around the days of the week—there’s nothing like a traveling parent to heighten awareness of time passing—the story begins on Monday, as our young narrator breakfasts with her family, before Mommy gets into a taxi and reminds her she’ll be home on Sunday. The days pass with special treats (backyard movie night!), Facetime hugs, and conversations at school among other kids with absent or traveling family members…but by Wednesday, there’s “a lot of missing.” Even the dinner table feels strange: “It’s tricky to find the right spot when I’m not in the middle.”
Kaylani Juanita’s artwork couldn’t be more different than Julia Kuo’s—where the latter’s was spare, hers is lush with decorative details and whimsical colors—but it’s equally adept at conveying depth of emotion. I particularly love Thursday’s installment, as the girl lies dramatically on the floor, eyes closed, and pontificates about missing Mommy “as deep as a scuba diver down deep in the ocean and as high as an astronaut up in the stars.” (Extra props for the fabulous fashion accessories on the mothers and daughter throughout the book.)
By Friday, the girl enlists Mama in a plan to pass the remaining time and surprise Mommy in the process. Readers will delight in the ritualistic approach she takes, perhaps appropriating the idea for the next time they find themselves with “a lot of missing.”
A Grandma’s Magic
by Charlotte Offsay, illus. Asa Gilland
If a grandmother’s love isn’t testament to magic in the world, then I don’t know what is. Not a day goes by when I don’t personally mourn the loss of basking in the glow of two people who thought I hung the moon and did everything in their power to make me believe it. After all, “Grandmas aren’t like regular grown-ups.”
A grandma’s magic bursts through the door, scoops you up, and sweeps you away to adventure. […] A grandma’s magic has no schedule. It zooms. It wanders. There’s nowhere else it would rather be.
So begins the lovely, effusive A Grandma’s Magic, by Charlotte Offsay and Asa Gilland, which follows seven anonymous pairs of grandmothers and grandchildren as they adventure and vacation, bake and craft, garden and knit together. And hug. Lots and lots of hugging. The illustrations show a range of skin tones, body types, and settings—a lovely nod to the universality of a grandmother’s love.
But what happens when a visit with grandmother comes to an end? As one grandmother loads the trunk of her taxi cab and waves to her forlorn grandchild, some comfort is offered. “[T]he most magical thing about Grandmas…is that their magic never leaves. It stays with you, always.” In the final spread, we see some of the ways the children from the book are holding onto the memories made under the spell of this love magic.
The Planet in a Pickle Jar
by Martin Stanev
What if a grandmother’s magic isn’t obvious from the start? What if your grandmother seems like an old lady living in a “house as dull and ordinary as she [is],” until she blows your mind with the most incredible revelation? What if the clues had been there all along, but you never saw through the big meals and the rambling stories to see that she was actually a POWERHOUSE SAVING THE WORLD WITH PICKLE JARS?! Yup. That’s the premise of Martin Stanev’s The Planet in a Pickle Jar, a spectacularly kooky story that delivers an environmental message at the same time that it celebrates one special grandmother.
Told by Grandma’s two grandchildren, who rarely look up from their devices or their bickering long enough to notice what’s in front of their eyes—exotic collections on shelves and elephant trunks poking out from doorways—the story delights in the reader being the first to discover that Grandma isn’t the boring old lady/shopper/storyteller/pickler her grandchildren have pegged her to be. The grandchildren start clueing in about halfway through the book, when Grandma tells them a story about the fragility of the world. “If we don’t do anything to preserve it, it will slowly fade away.”
The kids start paying attention. Their vigilance leads them through a mysterious door, into a basement room with miles of shelves bearing pickle jars. But not just any pickle jars: jars filled with history, language, nature, and so much more. Plus, a second room, which holds the answer to why Grandma is collecting these jars in the first place.
Grandma, it turns out, is the coolest. And the only thing cooler than a Grandma working to save the planet is a Grandma who needs your help to do it. Because when we follow in the footsteps of strong women, we’re unstoppable.
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Books published by Roaring Book Press, Candlewick Press (gifted), Doubleday (gifted), and Flying Eye Books. All opinions are my own. My links support the beautiful indie, Old Town Books, where I am the buyer for the children’s section!