Mother’s Day was yesterday, and across the land, mothers were celebrated with cards and flowers, brunches and lovingly-made breakfasts in bed. It is the day that more international phone calls are made than any other day of the year.
In the land of middle-grade, though, the tribute to motherhood can be a bit more backhanded. In preparation for this post, I went back through my Goodreads list to kickstart my rusty ol’ neural net and realized that mothers in middle-grade are frequently in short supply for a variety of reasons: out of the country, death, a choice not to be involved or just a convenient stage left, exit mom. In short, in middle-grade books, a good mom can be hard to find!
The fact that good mothers are a scarce commodity in middle-grade comes as no surprise; it speaks to the power of motherhood. Mothers usually help children avoid bad decisions, stay away from dangerous situations and provide a safe place to land when trouble happens. All of these situations are frequently the stuff of middle-grade books. The presence of a mom could eliminate a serious chunk of plot!
In spite of these literary obstacles, though, there are some stand-out moms in middle-grade who deserve recognition. Feel free to add your favorite middle-grade mom in the comments! Here are mine.
Molly Weasley, of the Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling: All moms are busy, but Mrs. Weasley might take the prize of multi-tasker of the year. Planning a wedding, riding herd over a passel of kids including George and Fred, and battling those pesky Death Eaters takes an admirable level of grit and organization. And she does all of this while making Harry feel welcome in her home as one of her own. (Though a magic wand for housecleaning…what could us real-life moms do with that!)
Caroline Ingalls, from the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: If I had to put one mom on Survivor, I think it would have to be Caroline Ingalls. Think of it: this woman made a fine apple pie with no apples, survived the long winter with a coffee grinder and a button, and smacked a bear on the nose with her bare hand! (Okay, she thought it was a cow, but still…) When a log rolled on to her ankle (she was helping to build the family cabin, you know), she wrapped it up and kept going. Mrs. Ingalls would dust those other Survivor contestants, with a smile on her face and never once whine or compromise her integrity.
Mrs. Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle: My friend, Madelyn Rosenberg, said it best, “Mrs. Murray from Wrinkle in Time was the epitome of awesome — she was like a walking Enjoli ad — She was a scientist, she cooked delicious stew on her bunsen burner, she raised her kids on her own while her husband was away, she tried to understand her children and celebrate their differences, and she was always okay having new people over for dinner.”
Mrs. Hatcher, from Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume: While many of the most memorable things in the book happen when Mrs. Hatcher leaves the scene (what didn’t happen when she left the guys alone to visit her sister?), I’m putting Mrs. Hatcher in for one simple reason: she acknowledges she made a mistake after blaming Peter for his little brother’s accident on the playground.
“Peter, I said some things yesterday that I didn’t really mean.”
I looked at her. “Honest?” I asked.
“Yes…you see…I was very upset over Fudge’s accident and I had to blame somebody. So I picked on you.”
“Yes,” I said. “You sure did.”
“It wasn’t your fault though. I know that. It was an accident. It could have happened even if I had been in the playground myself.”
“He wanted to fly,” I said. “He thought he was a bird.”
“I don’t think he’ll try to fly again,” my mother said.
“Me neither,” I told her.
Then we both laughed and I knew she was my real mother after all.
The whole scene from beginning to end was written so honestly, I still remember the first time I read those words, and suddenly liking Mrs. Hatcher at a whole new level.
Every mom on this list reminds me of at least one great mom I know in real life: she is gritty and smart, takes on too much but leaves time to love her kids (and maybe a few extra kids who need it). She frequently can make something out of nothing. She makes mistakes but sets things right.
And great moms, in life and in fiction, know when to step back, and let their children create their own stories.