In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Picturing the working mom

Dear Aunt Debbie,

Oh, dear.  Does "working mom" in picture books mean "absent mom"?  Owl Babies sounds lovely, but as a working mom myself, I hate to think that the absent mom is the best we can come up with in that category.

That said, only two picture books spring to mind for me.  The first is I Live in Brooklyn, which we have been given no less than three times because, well, we live in Brooklyn.  (At some point, I'd love to do a post on place-specific books, so many of which are deeply dull.)

Mari Takabayashi wrote and illustrated this book, and the illustrations are often quite appealing and accurate in depicting aspects of Brooklyn life.  My favorite page has pictures of all the different kinds of street food carts.  Unfortunately, the book is plotless.  It's narrated by a six-year-old girl, Michelle, and she walks you through some things she does in Brooklyn throughout the year: "Daddy takes me window shopping on Fifth Avenue every year.  It is fun to see Santa Claus standing in the crowd with his bell....Whenever my mom makes a sandwich, she saves the edges of the bread for us so that we can feed the ducks in the park.  They are always hungry."  It's not horrendous, just flat -- the voice of an adult trying to sound like a child, but losing any shred of personality by making the language too simple.  Eleanor loves it, of course.  But it's one of the books I sometimes hide at the back of the shelf.

Still, Michelle's mother works!  Every morning, she leaves Michelle's sister Lucy with their grandma (who conveniently lives one block away, sigh), and takes the bus with Michelle: "She drops me off at school and then goes on to her office."  No drama, no emotion, just simple fact.

The other book that came to mind after reading your post isn't really about a working mother, but another animal mother who leaves her kid alone to go forage for food.  It's one of my all-time favorite children's books, however, so I'm going to seize the opportunity to write about it.

Wait Till the Moon is Full
is Margaret Wise Brown at her best:

Once upon a time in the dark of the moon 
there was a little raccoon.

He lived down in a big warm chestnut tree 
with his mother -- who was also a raccoon.

This little raccoon wanted  to see the night.  He
had seen the day.

So he said to his mother, "I want to go out in the
woods and see the night." 

But his mother said, "Wait."

"Wait till the moon is full."  So he waited, deep
in his warm little home under the chestnut tree.

As the raccoon waits and grows, and the moon waxes, he hears the sounds of the night, and his mother tells him to wait, and sings him songs about the night.  On one page, his mother is late coming home, and the raccoon "sat there wondering to himself."  But then she returns, "skuttle bump, in came his mother, her pointed ears pushed back on her head" (and, in the Garth Williams drawing, in a shawl and carrying a basket of groceries).  And of course, eventually, the moon is full, and the little raccoon gets to go out and play in the moonlight, and the waiting is rewarded.

As ours will be starting tomorrow with our week of family weddings!  See you then.

Love, Annie


  1. Thank you for your comment about working moms not being absent moms! I was thinking more along the lines of I Live in Brooklyn - where somehow you are aware of the fact that the mom works. Maybe it even takes place on the weekend when mom is home... but you know that she works during the week. Or she comes home and tells her children about her day, and they tell her about theirs. Alas, these books seem to be few and far between.

  2. Annie, I'm coming at this a little late, but Fiona discovered a pretty good book about working moms at the library: When Mama Gets Home, by Marisabina Russo ( Looks like it's no longer in print, though. Incidentally, M. Russo is fairly prolific and another favorite is Hannah's Baby Sister, about a girl who is counting on her new sibling being a baby girl, only to be surprised!