Paging Mother | What We’re Reading

The “What We’re Reading” gang goes thematic with a post–Mother’s Day column this week. What did you read with your mom? Do you have a favorite fictional or nonfictional mother?

Woody AllenMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, School Library Journal
I’m returning to a beloved subject, with John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography (Carroll & Graf). And yes, it’s appropriate for Mother’s Day, considering the sections covering the Woody/Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi debacle:

On 14 February, Allen received a Valentine card from Farrow and his family. On a large heart with the message “Especially for You” Farrow had written words like “Loss” and “Betrayal,” and the message, “The child you used has pierced my heart a hundred times and deep.” A photograph of Farrow and the children in happier times was mounted on the card. Through her chest in the photograph, she thrust a serrated steak-knife, while kitchen spikes pierced the hearts of the children. Glued to the handle of the knife was a Xerox of one of the Soon-Yi Polaroids. Far from the playful atmosphere in which, Allen claimed, the photographs were taken, the expression on Soon-Yi’s face is chilling—an impassive, challenging erotic stare.

I do also want to mention one of my mom’s favorite books that I’m planning on returning to this week: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. My mom is nothing if not classic!

Watership DownLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, Library Journal
I learned to read at a very young age, and my mom is a big part of that. She read to me and my siblings constantly, and took us to the local library every week. I don’t recall the titles of our bedtime stories, but her reading voice was a balm and a soporific—usually! Sometimes she’d get so animated reading a particular passage that she’d wake us up instead of lulling us to sleep. I do recall a long (let’s just say excruciatingly so) road trip years ago, where she read Richard Adams’s Watership Down (Avon) aloud to our blended family. She kept five kids (and my stepfather) riveted and for a while at least, we weren’t squabbling over sleeping bag space or whining about being there yet. And I just looked up the book on Amazon and noticed that Adams originally told the story to his daughters, who insisted he write it down. Thank you, daughters of Richard!

The Woman WarriorKathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor, SLJ
I was just a kid when my mother handed me a copy of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Knopf) by Maxine Hong Kingston. I was much too young to fully grasp its significance as a new form of literature, melding memoir, fiction, and folklore, and a watershed moment in Asian American culture. But I was keenly aware of this act as the sharing of an experience, one that she believed I was ready for. The whole thing blew me away, and I’ve never been the same since.
It’s heartbreaking to hear that helicopter parenting has extended to reading, with overanxious concern among moms and dads as to age, grade, whatever, appropriateness. For God’s sake, be thankful that your kid likes to read. And let them stretch, it could change a life.

Cordelia's HonorMeredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
My favorite books about a mom are the volumes in Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga.” The first one, Cordelia’s Honor (Baen), is about (among many other things) a woman who goes to considerable lengths to save her unborn child in the midst of a civil war in a society not her own. But she is also a woman who does not have to have love dangled as bait or her motherhood threatened to justify her adventures—she had already been adventuring in an abstract cause she believed in before those things occurred, and reconciling the two was neither easy nor a foregone conclusion.
The later books are all based around the adventures of that child, when grown, but his mother continues to be an ethical touchstone. Bujold does not do the all-too-common thing where marriage and parenthood ends the adventure, nor does Cordelia ever turn sentimentalized. She is a source of pithy and astringent commentary as much as inspiration to Miles, and turns her critical gaze on herself and her marriage and parenting choices in a way which does not read as internalized guilt trips.

Crooked RiverEtta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
Valerie Geary’s Crooked River, coming out in October from Morrow, features a mainstay of books with YA main characters: an absent mother. In this case, the mother recently died and her two daughters, whose points of view alternately narrate the novel, have moved to rural Oregon to live with their societal-dropout, tent-dwelling father. The older sister, Sam, is exhausted with trying to care for her young charge, Ollie, who won’t speak and communicates by pointing at apt sentences in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The reader knows that Ollie is pursued everywhere by “shimmering,” ghosts whose voices, she fears, will come out if she tries to talk. Then there’s a murder that’s close to home in every sense of the phrase, and Sam fears that all that is familiar to her, shaky though it is, will come asunder. I’m not usually a big fan of horror, but this title is more mysterious than frightening, and the ghosts add a compelling twist to what’s already an absorbing mystery.

Richard Scarry’s A Story a DayKurt Yalcin, Bookroom Assistant, LJ
My mother worked hard, and after a long day on the job she didn’t have much energy for fancy fairy tales. That’s why Richard Scarry’s A Story a Day: 365 Stories and Rhymes (Golden Books) became our go-to bedtime ritual. This collection taught me the joys of a daily reading habit, with a poem or story (by Kathryn Jackson) paired with gorgeous illustrations (by Scarry) for every day of the year. If you’re looking for a family treasure to keep your kids reading all year long, this is the one!


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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email:, Twitter: @lizefrench