Mothers in Literature

Mothers are pretty important. Aside from the biological function of propagating the human race, they comfort us, nurture us, and occupy a vital psychological role in our development. Or not—a lot of mothers are absent, especially in literature. Jem and Scout Finch are motherless, the Lost Boys are orphans (until Wendy comes along), and Heidi has no woman's gentling influence. But this absence doesn't mean mothers are unimportant; for these characters, the lack of a mother becomes a central concern.

Bad mothers are just as influential, and some of literature's most famous mothers are very bad. Cinderella's stepmother, the loquacious Mrs. Bennett, Grendel's dam, Coraline's "other mother"—it's a long list, and not very encouraging. The torments of wicked women are hard to forget, which may be the reason these characters are so prominent and often seem to outnumber the good mothers in well-known books.

But there are plenty of good mothers, too, though they often seem to hide behind their children, or to be so good as to be entirely unbelievable (Marmee from Little Women comes immediately to mind). The best mothers in literature are the most realistic, routinely sacrificing themselves for their children, their husbands and their ideals, but still human and fallible. These mothers are our favorites.

Women like Caroline Ingalls, whose hard work, high morals and good humor helped a pioneer family through the most harrowing conditions. Or Maria Trapp, whose submission to God meant submission to her husband and rebellion against a godless government. Or Mama from All-of-a-Kind Family, whose quiet diligence and gentle wisdom led five lovable little girls into maturity. Or Little Bear's mother, who never forgets his birthday. Or Frances the Badger's mother, who knows what Frances needs and what she wants. Or Ora Baxter, Maria Franzon, Marta Hanson, Sarah Wheaton, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, etc., etc., etc.

Mother's Day is this month and we thought it would be fun to celebrate mothers by finding some of the best ones in literature. It turned out to be harder than expected at first, until we started scanning shelves and realized there really are a lot of good moms in books. Maybe all those Google lists about "the worst mothers in fiction" impeded our (usually excellent) collective memory. Or maybe it's just more fun to remember the villains.

But it's no fun to have a villain for a mom in real life. None of us at Exodus have villainous mothers, and we are grateful. No one has a perfect mom, either—what would we do with one of those? It would be impossible to live up to her standards. Or maybe the definition of a perfect mom is one that understands her children's fallibility and does everything in her power to help them grow into self-controlled, capable and effective adults. If that's the case, we definitely do have perfect moms.

Hopefully books like the ones we're featuring will promote the celebration of mothers and motherhood long after the (rather arbitrary) May date specifically set aside in their honor. Not that such holidays are in any way a bad thing—we just want to be sure we don't forget about Mom as soon as the meal is cleared (a meal which, if cooked by Dad and the kiddos, is even more evidence of her necessity). But by all means, be especially good to mom on Mother's Day; and for all you moms reading this, your family will be blessed if you let them do for you one day what you do for them all the rest.

Did you find this review helpful?
35 Items found Print
Active Filters: New Books & Materials
All-of-a-Kind Family
by Sydney Taylor
from Yearling
Family Stories for 2nd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$5.94
Angel in the Waters
by Regina Doman
from Sophia Institute Press
Realistic Fiction for Preschool-Kindergarten
$5.91
Anne of Green Gables
Anne #1
by L. M. Montgomery
from Bantam Books
Orphan Stories for 5th-9th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$5.94
Anne of Green Gables
Sterling Classics
by L. M. Montgomery & Scott McKowen
Unabridged from Sterling Publishing Co.
Orphan Stories for 5th-9th grade
in Sterling Classics (Location: FIC-STE)
$9.95
Anne of Green Gables
Anne #1
by L. M. Montgomery
Reprint from Puffin Books
Orphan Stories for 5th-9th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$5.09
Ask Mr. Bear
by Marjorie Flack
from Aladdin Paperbacks
for Kindergarten-1st grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79 $4.00 (2 in stock)
Baby Sister for Frances
by Russell & Lillian Hoban
from HarperCollins
Animal Fantasy for 1st-3rd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
Bedtime for Frances
by Russell Hoban
from HarperCollins
Animal Fantasy for 1st-3rd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
Belles On Their Toes
by Frank Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
from HarperCollins
Family Stories for 4th-9th grade
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$11.04
Birthday for Frances
by Russell & Lillian Hoban
from HarperCollins
Animal Fantasy for 1st-3rd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
Bread and Jam for Frances
by Russell & Lillian Hoban
from HarperCollins
Animal Fantasy for 1st-3rd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
Chair For My Mother
by Vera B. Williams
from HarperCollins
Family Stories for Kindergarten-3rd grade
1983 Caldecott Honor Book
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
Cheaper By the Dozen
by Frank Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
from HarperCollins
Family Stories for 4th-9th grade
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$13.59 $6.00 (3 in stock)
Girl of the Limberlost
by Gene Stratton-Porter
from Dover Publications
Realistic Fiction for 7th-10th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$7.99
Gone Crazy in Alabama
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Reprint from Amistad Press
for 4th-7th grade
Coretta Scott King Award
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$5.94
Little Mommy
by Sharon Kane
from Golden Books
in Little Golden Books (Location: O3E)
$4.24
Little Women
Puffin Classics
by Louisa May Alcott
from Puffin Books
Realistic Romantic Fiction for 5th-8th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$7.64
Love You Forever
by Robert Munsch
from Firefly Books
for Preschool-1st grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$5.06
Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey
from Puffin Books
Realistic Animal Stories for Kindergarten-3rd grade
1942 Caldecott Medal winner
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79 $5.00 (2 in stock)
Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey
from Viking Press
Realistic Animal Stories for Kindergarten-3rd grade
1942 Caldecott Medal winner
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$16.14
Mama's Bank Account
by Kathryn Forbes
from Harcourt
Realistic Fiction for 7th-10th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$10.16 $7.00 (1 in stock)
Matchlock Gun
by Walter Edmonds
from PaperStar Books
Historical Fiction for 2nd-4th grade
1942 Newbery Medal winner
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$6.79 $4.50 (2 in stock)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
by Robert O'Brien
from Aladdin Paperbacks
Animal Fantasy for 4th-6th grade
1972 Newbery Medal winner
in Fantasy Fiction (Location: FIC-FAN)
$7.64
My Mother is Mine
by Marion Dane Bauer
from Simon and Schuster
for Nursery-1st grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79
New Coat for Anna
by Harriet Ziefert
from Random House
Historical Fiction for 1st-3rd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$6.79 $4.50 (1 in stock)
Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson
from HarperCollins
Realistic Animal Stories for 4th-8th grade
1957 Newbery Honor Book
in Animal Stories (Location: FIC-ANI)
$5.94 $3.00 (1 in stock)
P.S. Be Eleven
by Rita Williams-Garcia
Reprint from Amistad Press
for 4th-7th grade
Coretta Scott King Award
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$5.94
Ramona and Her Mother
by Beverly Cleary
from HarperCollins
for 3rd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$6.79
Runaway Bunny
by Margaret Brown & Clement Hurd
from HarperCollins
for Preschool-2nd grade
in Picture Books (Location: PICTURE)
$7.64 $4.50 (1 in stock)
Sarah, Plain and Tall
by Patricia MacLachlan
30th Anniversary from HarperCollins
Family Stories for 2nd-6th grade
1986 Newbery Medal winner
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$6.79
Story of the Trapp Family Singers
by Maria Augusta Trapp
from HarperCollins
Biography for 7th-10th grade
in Historical Fiction (Location: FIC-HIF)
$13.59
Tale of Tom Kitten
Book 8
by Beatrix Potter
from Frederick Warne & Company
for Nursery-1st grade
$5.94
Treasures of the Snow
by Patricia St. John
2nd edition from Moody Press
Realistic Fiction for 4th-8th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$7.64
Understood Betsy (abridged)
by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
from Bob Jones University Press
Family Stories for 2nd-6th grade
in Realistic Fiction (Location: FIC-REA)
$5.94
Wrinkle in Time
Wrinkle in Time Series #1
by Madeleine L'Engle
from Square Fish Publishing
Fantasy for 4th-9th grade
1963 Newbery Medal winner
in Fantasy Fiction (Location: FIC-FAN)
$5.94 $4.50 (1 in stock)