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Sunday, May 8, 2011

5 Reasons Why Moms Matter in Children's Literature

The first thing you learn when writing for children and teens is that you have to get rid of the parents.  With parents or other adults around, the kids don't have as many opportunities to go on adventures and get into trouble.  The easiest way to solve this problem is to kill off (or otherwise dispose of) the parents.  I find, though, that getting rid of the parents altogether is often a mistake because parents matter in children's literature.  Moms matter.  So today on Mother's Day, I thought I'd do a little ode to why moms matter in Kidlit and YA.

1.  They provide conflict.  Read any of Carolyn Mackler's novels and you'll find that the central conflict for the teen protagonist often revolves around her relationship with her mother.  In The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things, Virginia has to find her own identity, independent of the identity that her mother tries to steer her toward.

2.  They can incite a story.  In Sarah Beth Durst's Ice the story really begins when Cassie gives up her own freedom in order to free her mother from the trolls.  If it had not been for her mother trapped in the troll castle, the story never would have unraveled from there.

3.  They provide a safe place in a world of chaos.  Though Katniss' mother doesn't play a huge role in The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), she does provide a safe place, a home base.  In the first book of the trilogy, the mother doesn't appear very much, but in Catching Fire, when Gale is wounded, she springs into action with her healing skills.

4.  And did I mention the conflict?  In Coe Booth's Tyrell, the mother's inability to get her act together and take care of her family is what pushes Tyrell into his caretaker role.  If the mother had been a regular, responsible mother, then Tyrell wouldn't need to take care of his younger brother and he never would have come up with the plan that drives the story.

5.  Finally, even when they're not around, the mother's presence can be felt.  Perhaps the best example of a mother who has a strong impact on the protagonist is Lily, Harry's mother in the Harry Potter series.  While we never see Lily, but we know her selfless sacrifice is partly what protects Harry throughout the story.

To all the mothers, moms and mommies out there, you're awesome!  Despite the scuffs and struggles, remember: protagonists would not exist without their mothers.

To my own Mami: this one's for you.


3 comments:

catdownunder said...

Yes, mothers do not actually need to be there to influence the story!

Jess said...

One of my favorite authors (Robin McKinley) frequently gives mothers minor but important roles. They are advice givers and support systems who do everything they can to protect their children, but also know that they must allow them freedom to go on "adventures" if they are to fulfill their potential. They usually have limited "page time", but McKinley's parent characters are among my favorite--perhaps because they remind me of my own parents. ;)

Great post!

Lily said...

Absent and dead mothers seem to show up with such regularity in child and young adult books that it might be something different to have, for once, a mother who creates conflict by being around way too much. That said, some of my favorite books as a kid were the Homecoming series by Cynthia Voigt, where the completely absent mother is central to the plot and important in shaping each of the characters (major and minor) in the books.

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