I'm Emily Reynolds.
I'm Emily Reynolds.
So, motherhood. A touchy, but deeply vital subject. A topic I assigned for myself to cover this month almost a year ago. Little did my old self back in 2019 know then, that when I would open up my monthly schedule to see what books I’d be reviewing in August of 2020, I'd find that the discussion of mothering would already be foremost on my mind--a whole year later.
Inside this little booklet my son filled-out at school, there was a list of "Mom's Favorites." For example..."Favorite Food:________." His answer: "broccoli." "Favorite Thing to Do: ________." He wrote, "laundry." How does he know the true me so well?!!! Kids may never know their parents until they become some.
It’s as if my past psyche had an inkling that I would need to self-soothe my future self with a reminder of why mothering is desperately crucial. And that my own mothering skills would need a boost to get me through this pandemic during a busy summer of teaching my kids to garden, cook, clean, and balance that work with fun, while making necessary choices to guide us into the unsettled school year ahead. All of this has brought out my own weaknesses and humbled me to no end.
So I’m writing this month’s review for myself—to help me as a mom. Forgive my indulgence. (What am I saying? There isn’t even more than one person who reads this review regularly—you’re the best, Mom! Okay, maybe my sisters read it occasionally too...Thanks, C.J. and Cryssy! And perhaps a sister-in-law or two might check-in now and again. "Toda," Amelia! "Hi," dear sisters-in-law-of-mine!
So as my husband and I try to keep our own family machine well-oiled and all of the parts moving and working, I'm remembering back to my own childhood and how patient, loving, and positive my own mama was. I want to be more like that--gentle, supportive, yet strong enough to correct when guidance is needed. But not overbearing, not judgmental. Positive.
I think about what the parents of one of my favorite heroes are often quoted as having said: “Cynics do not contribute; skeptics do not create; doubters do not achieve.” (-Ada Hinckley) And it's a great motto for motherhood. Positivity. Someone has to be upbeat or everything goes to the dogs. The mother of that same aforementioned hero (Gordon B. Hinckley), is also quoted as saying, "a happy attitude and smiling countenance could boost one over almost any misfortune." As well as, "Every individual is responsible for his [or her] own happiness.”
Which is why I've chosen the following books with strong, but gentle examples of positive mothers who encourage their children with unwavering hope for a brighter future. As my own mama did, and does, for me still. She believes in me, and I loved her so dearly as a child for waking up each day to face the world with bright, kind eyes, and a gentle smile. When I want to argue with my kids when they're whiny, or difficult, I'm trying to remember how my own mother rarely argued with my siblings and me. Oh, boy! I've got some room for improvement to fill those patient shoes.
So here we go...the titles in this month's list aren't exclusive to just children's lit, but are classic stories for adults as well. These are stories that buoy up mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and care-givers for children from every stage of life.
1) Before I Was Your Mother,
Written by Kathryn Lasky,
Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
When my kids and I first found this book over a decade ago, I was the one pressing them to let us read it just one more time. All the time. The tone of the mother's voice--sharing memories of her own childhood (with her young daughter Katie, feels as genuine to me as the memories of my own mama teaching us to make homemade rootbeer-flavored lollipops for Family Home Evening or of her showing me how to sew Cabbage Patch Kid clothes on her college day 1950's Singer sewing machine.
If you haven't encountered this book before, you will love it! And of course, how could anyone not with the sensitive illustrations of LeUyen Pham?
Watch a read-aloud of Before I Was Your Mother here, if you'd like:
2) How to Get Your Child to Love Reading,
Written by Esme Raji Codell
One of my sisters and a homeschooler, Celestia (see her blog at:
https://treeoflifemothering.com/ clued me in to this book years ago when my oldest were just starting to read. It was like opening my mouth for a drink above Old Faithful.
Ms. Raji Codell is a former school teacher, children's librarian, and bookseller, and absolutely inspiringly, laugh-out-loud funny! Her unorthodox methods used to excite children into ADORING the art of reading for joy, are simply radical. And they work. I've tried them. And now have to threaten to take away books as leverage for getting chores done.
The chapter in which Esme describes how she would lure her reluctant inner-city Chicago students into falling in love with history by giving them the privilege of "time travel" with a book in a time machine (she'd fashioned out of a refrigerator box decorated with tinsel streamers and a snake light inside), was brilliant. So clever, so fun!
This book is a must-have for a new mom's personal library. Years ago (before my children were drinking four to six gallons of milk a week, and I was not on a budget yet) I would buy up used copies of this book to give to friends of newborns. The book is a delight to read as a novel, though it's really a resource. Esme smatters her own real-life experiences throughout and shares experiences from teaching that made a difference. She also includes incredible lists and suggestions on how to jump-start children of all ages to read, read, read!
Here's one review from Publisher's Weekly on Amazon which is spot on:
Codell (Educating Esme) has amassed an exuberant treasure trove for parents who want to help their children develop a love of reading. A strong believer in reading aloud, Codell gives an admiring nod to the work of Jim Trelease (The Read-Aloud Handbook), while presenting her own theory that interest (finding the right books for the child), integration (using reading as a springboard into other disciplines) and invention (when a child's unique ideas are inspired by the writing) can make the difference in how a youngster approaches reading. Codell, a teacher and librarian, resists grouping books by age level, explaining, "don't let somebody else's scoring system define your child, and don't let reading levels level your child's love of reading." Instead, she offers a simple method for determining whether a book is too difficult while pointing out that kids may listen on a much higher level than they read. The witty, comical "Madame Esme" (as she calls herself) offers scores of thematic book lists parents can use to inspire young readers, ranging from topics as diverse as medieval England to dinosaurs or hiccups. Covering a vast spectrum of subjects and authors, Codell casts a wide net as she builds a magical literary bridge between home and school. With appendixes of Caldecott and Newbery winners present and past, the book is akin to having one's own personal children's librarian at one's fingertips. Codell creates a contagious enthusiasm for the enormous value of children's literature, which will leave parents primed for their next trip to the library or bookstore.
3) Papa's Wife,
Written by Thyra Ferre Bjorn
Here's an out-of-print treasure trove (first book in a series), recommended to me by my other sister. I will forever thank you, dear Cryssy, for giving me one of my top five favorite reads EVER! This book helped me through several difficult postpartum periods--encouraging me to face days (and years ahead) of diapering, nursing through the wee hours, cooking meals for messy eaters, washing dishes without a dishwasher for our first two toddlers, and learning to love the welcoming of big spirits in tiny bodies into this world, with JOY and hygge.
Don't you love Dictionary.com's definition of "whoo-guh"? And what a perfect encapsulation of the essence of Papa's Wife! If you haven't read it already, you'll see what I mean after you do.
Because the heroine in this book (really a loosely-based biography of the author's mother) dreamed, nay--longed(!) to be a mother (after losing her own mom at a young age). And that, my friend, she accomplished--eight times over, with gusto and chutzpah.
Maria Franzon, the protagonist in this book, chose motherhood, not because she was "controlled" by her husband in an age in which many considered to be repressive or stifling for women. But because she reveled in the honor and sacred calling of shaping young minds and hearts--of raising children who knew they were loved and cherished, and would grow to bless the lives of all they knew, as an unstoppable ripple effect for good.
My husband's mom often says something along the lines of, "Bringing a baby into the world is a woman's way of sending a message to the future." A message of whatever beliefs she holds dearly enough to instill into a malleable little soul. "Here, this is what I know to be true, now go live by it, and teach the next generation the same."
Now, in a day and age when women are given so much choice in their lives as far as education, career paths, and how to spend their "own" time, it's nice to read about one woman who chose, even dreamed with all her heart, to be a mother--foremost. Above anything. Motherhood is still as important as it once was. I think the world just forgot. Got distracted. We...I, have become distracted--depending on the day. I want to be a better mom. Don't all mothers?
I want my children to know I see hope for them in the future, that they will grow to make the world a more wonderful place, to choose to be people who live by a moral code of ethics and standards of charity, compassion, and faith in Someone greater than themselves.
I'm so grateful to be married to a man who regards family as the most important aspect of his life, second only to his faith in that Someone greater than himself.
Here's a review from My Lady Bibliophile that expresses just how the book Papa's Wife made me feel about family, and taught me to cherish homemaking as a sacred art that slowly changes the world in real, lasting, hard-earned ways--through service and sacrifice which pay back for generations to come.
"The real moment of revelation was another book. Three books, actually. I've had a hardbound trilogy sitting on my shelf for two or three years now, waiting to be read. On a whim (what I thought was a whim) I picked it up this summer. It's a trilogy by Thyra Ferre Bjorn about a mother and daughter: a real life Swedish pastor's family that immigrated to America. The picture of family was so homelike that I couldn't get away from its pages. It held simple charm, ambition, and trust in God's goodness. Just a childlike faith, and deep love for taking care of husbands, children, and grandchildren that one woman passed on to all her daughters.
To see more words on fine books, like the review above by Schuyler McConkey, visit:
4) Papa Married a Mormon,
Written by John D. Fitzgerald
If you happened to read one of my earlier reviews recently about The Great Brain series, and actually checked one of the books out, or already knew about them, this title will THRILL you into staying up to read in bed until 3a.m. (Wait...weren't we just talking about being better mothers? Well, the addictive qualities of this novel might undermine that goal for a few days. Better start being better after you get sleep again once you close this novel after its last page. Ha ha!)
Are you ready to lose sleep?
This book, and its sequel, Mama's Boarding House, are more recommendations given to me years ago by my older sister, Cryssy! MWAH! Love you, Cryssy! Because Papa Married a Mormon is another top five favorite book on my shelf of best books ever written on this earth. The stories it holds are fast-paced, character-driven, and well-plotted. Though some may be over the top. The interesting thing is, J.D. Fitzgerald based many of these tales on threads of truth from his own life, and he lived quite an adventurous one. So, who knows how much of the tales are fiction, and how much is fact? You decide.
Because many parts of the book are similar in prose to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn novels, Papa Married a Mormon fits the mold of a Victorian look at an era long gone.
And one of my favorite Goodreads buddies, Tatiana says:
I really adored the character of Mama, whose courage and convictions, and just her basic goodness are an inspiration to me. She was one of those believers who understood and lived the real gospel, the part about loving others even if they're different from us, and doing what's right even when it will get you shunned or gossiped about in the neighborhood. I just love Mama. Kids and dogs and people everywhere she went loved her, and so do I.
That's the mothering we can all seek after...And if there's one rabbit hole you go down while reading this book review today, make it this one, the fascinatingly cool website all about the mysterious author John D. Fitzgerald:
https://findingfitzgerald.com/ Incredible stuff, my friends!
5) The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,
Written by Maria Augusta Trapp
Because Rachel on Goodreads has already said exactly how I feel about this book, I'll leave you in her capable hands for a review of the third of my top five favorite books ever:
To say I loved this book is an understatement - it was fabulous, moving, and even funnier than I imagined it would be! Of course I grew up watching the great film, Sound of Music, of which Maria's life was based from, but I'd never read the true story of her life. There was so much more to her life than was portrayed in the film, and it was exciting to really get to know her in her own words.
6) The Seven Silly Eaters,
Written by Mary Ann Hoberman,
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
Every mother can relate (and almost cry out in exasperation) for Mrs. Peters while reading this darling picture book She not only struggles to keep up with the demands of a family that just keeps eating, but like many of us, deals with the same monotonous foods over and over again. The diet of these seven silly persnicketies is so real, so monotonously demanding, that it hurts--because it's all too true-to-life, as many of us live with this reality as mothers. Having two brave girls who have celiacs, and another duaghter who
But the story is so lilting in its prose, and turns out so goofy and fun, that the book is a delight to read about someone else's cooking woes.
Not to mention that I want to live in the architectural wonder of the Peters' cottage, don't you? Bet you've thought the same thing yourself if you've read this book, right?
If you've made it down this far in the review, I would love to hear if you love and revere any of these six titles as well. They're all a bit obscure. But all oh, so powerful in their resonance to ring truth to the mothering heart. Does anyone, including my mama and sisters (in-law) even read this far down? Let's just say, I'm ultra impressed if you do...I don't think I would. I would bore myself silly. Silly eaters, that is. Back to the title at hand...
Being a mom who has to make three separate batches of pancakes for my own six silly eaters (two being gluten-intolerant, and one being allergic to egg whites), I totally commiserate with the fictional Mrs. Peters' crazy antics to nourish her own silly eaters. But I love the author's sense to give her gentle dedication and feel her pain as she succumbs to a breakdown. Been there. Had that mental meltdown.
(Hear Justin Roberts' zany song version of a mom having a meltdown:)
But then we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and move forward with a perfect brightness of hope, because we love these little people we are keeping alive. They are what make the world go round, and life worth laughing about.
Happy reading to you miraculous mothers everywhere. Keep doing what you do best--loving the next generation of parents.
P.S. If this topic of motherhood puts a little bee in your bonnet (hum "They Might Be Giants" here), then make a little birdhouse in your soul by looking into one of those golden books highlighting "mama birds" above. Just don't go eating worms to give to your hatchlings...
And don't forget to share you favorite mothering characters in the comments below. Don't be shy, please tell me why you adore Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter (up until she shook our trust in book seven by speaking French unnecessarily!), or the humble Susan Garth from George Eliot's Middlemarch, who rolls out pies at the kitchen table while urging on the studies of her children around her.
And don't forget the courageous mother rabbit in The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes who teaches pairs of her twenty-one children how to wash the dishes, launder the clothes, sweep the floor, make the beds, cook the dinner, sing songs, dance to entertain, and to the last little twenty-first bunny, she teaches him to pull out her chair. Brilliant....
So share your own favorite examples of mothering in literature, movies, or your own life. We need to hear of these strong models to remind us how we can be pillars of strength and faith for our children during these crazy, unpredictable times.
These little Eastern Phoebe birds (below) chased off a nasty crow after it snatched their single hatchling right from their nest as we on the ground helplessly watched. The mama bird squawked and pursued that gross old crow. But, sadly, to no avail. So the heart-broken couple left their summer home desolate for several weeks. However...after a month or so, they came back, and happily raised a second brood of FOUR fuzzy-headed babies with a vengeance of hope for a bright new future. That is the spirit of motherhood.