May 13, 2012

This One's For You, Mom!

When I launched this blog in January I intended to discuss picture books old and new, exploring outstanding titles aimed at many ages, topics, and interests. In recent weeks that included MORE, by I. C. Springman and Brian Lies followed by Z IS FOR MOOSE, by Kelly Binghamn and Paul O. Zelinsky.

As excited as I am to learn about and share these latest releases, this week I have something else on my mind. Nerdy Book Club posted accolades to outstanding moms in literature, while The Book Chook listed some life lessons embedded in the mom-isms we hear throughout childhood. This post is coming out a day early to honor my own Mom.

Pancreatic cancer took her from us more than a decade ago, but she's with me daily, especially on Mother's Day. The "Just for Mom" clothing sales filling newspapers and media ads never fail to bring her to mind. Mom was the first to admit she loved her clothes.

Mom grew up in Appalachia, wearing hand-me-downs, sleeping under quilts that were scrapped and patched from worn clothing, stuffed with raw cotton or other scraps too small to piece. Now we call that recycling. She was fed from the kitchen garden, warmed by a poorly vented coal stove, and walked to school barefoot, carrying her shoes to make them last longer. Now we call that reducing a carbon footprint.

It's easy to imagine why, as an adult, she so enjoyed the luxury of having multiple pairs of shoes to choose from, outfits to coordinate, accessories to vary. Her frugal attention to discounts, coupons, and close-outs did not diminish the image of style and class she always projected.

But that's not to say she was ashamed of her roots. To the contrary, she was raised with love and security, with music and story, with laughter and adventure. And with reading. Mom loved to read, shared that joy with us, and (we learned after her death) wrote often. Her taste in reading was far-reaching, as long as the content somehow touched her heart and life.

Which brings me to this week's featured titles. When she was well into her seventies I gave her two picture books I felt certain she'd enjoy. The first was ELIZABETI'S DOLL, by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Christy Hale (1998). After reading young Elizabeti's story of finding a rock to use as her baby doll, Eva, Mom told me she had done the same as a child. The youngest (by far) of siblings busy with school or work, Mom created a family of rocks with names and personalities to share her days. Without this book to trigger her memory I'd have never heard this story.

I'm a huge fan of Byrd Baylor's books, recommending them often. When I read THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT, with luminous pictures by Peter Parnall (1998) I knew Mom would love it. From the first line it is clear that the young narrator seeks the reader's support of her premise: "If you could see us/ sitting here/ at our old/ scratched-up/ homemade/ kitchen table/ you'd know that/ we aren't rich. But my father/ is trying to tell us/ we are."

Baylor captures the voice of a young girl perfectly, one who is smart enough to compare her own life with that of a richer community. She allows the girl to explore those differences in the light of her parents' values and finds she shares their sense of what it means to live a rich life.

As I was sure she would, Mom loved this book, too. I have many memories of Mom (and Dad) reading to and with us as children. Enjoying these books with Mom as an adult, learning more about her childhood, these are memories I cherish, too, especially on this Mother's Day.

You never outgrow your need for picture books.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Jenny. She was a lovely and loving Mom. Still miss her. Always will. Hope your Mother's Day was special, too.

  2. I loved this. What a remarkable childhood your mom had. It means so much to me that she read Elizabeti's Doll and it led to that moment:)

    1. Stephanie,
      It means so much to me that you enjoyed this post. Absolutely, her childhood was far removed from what we typically describe as an American life. Hoping to write versions of some of her stories myself in time. Just so you know, Elizabeti and Eva have been favorites of my students over the years, too, regardless of their age/gender. I always feature it during workshops for teachers. It's really unique and moving.
      Thank you for stopping by.

  3. Yes, thanks for noting the book. I am the illustrator, Christy Hale (not Hall), and like Elizabeti and your mom, I too had a rock I played with as a child. My rock had a stripe, so I pretended it was my pet skunk!

    1. Christy,
      My humblest apologies for the name error. (Unforgivable, since I know full well the illustrations carry the story equally with the text.) I was not as focused as I try to be in proofing and linking before posting, so after this note I'll be heading back to the post to correct the name and include links to both you and Stephanie.
      It's wonderful that you had such a personal connection to the story. No wonder the expressions throughout show how utterly "real" Eva is to Elizabeti. Her facial expressions and body language make excellent prompts for kids to imagine a subtext or inner voice.
      By the way, what ever happened to your pet skunk?

  4. What a lovely tribute to your mother.

    I think both of these books look great, and I'm impressed the illustrator visited. :)

    1. You won't go wrong with any of Byrd Baylor's titles (so quiet but deep) and don't miss the continuing stories of Elizabeti's life: MAMA ELIZABETI and ELIZABETI'S SCHOOL, both of which are also illustrated by Christy Hale. I'm sure you'll want to share them with others.
      Thanks so much for stopping by.


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