July 05, 2007


My Grandma/Mi Abuelita. By Ginger Foglesong Guy. Illustrated by Viví Escrivá. HarperCollins. $15.99.

A Chair for My Mother/Un Sillón para Mi Mamá. By Vera B. Williams. Greenwillow/HarperTrophy. $6.99 each.

Mama Always Comes Home. By Karma Wilson. Illustrated by Brooke Dyer. HarperTrophy. $6.99.

My Mother the Cheerleader. By Robert Sharenow. HarperTeen. $16.99.

      For kids of any age, speakers of any language, there is a special bond between child and mother – explored here in books for kids from newborns to teenagers. In the dual-language My Grandma/Mi Abuelita, a boy and his family fly from New York City, above the clouds and over the sea, to visit the children’s beloved grandmother. Each page has only one or two words in each language, starting in the morning at home and ending at night, going to sleep in Grandma’s house. The charming illustrations make this a lovely book for children up to age five.

      For ages 3-8, A Chair for My Mother – available in either English or Spanish – retains great charm 25 years after its initial publication. It is the story of a child; her mother, a waitress; and her grandmother, who live together until a fire burns their home and ruins their possessions. They move to a new apartment, receiving kind gifts of basic furniture from concerned neighbors, but what they really want is a big, comfortable chair – a place for grandma to rest and mother to relax after a hard day on her feet. A story of resilience in the face of loss, with determination and without self-pity, the book explains how this three-person family saves money in a huge jar, one dime at a time, until finally, finally, the jar is full and can be used to buy that much-desired armchair. The very simplicity of the everyday courage of girl, mother and grandmother gives their story staying power and real-world meaning.

      Another aspect of the real world – a mother going off to work – is at the heart of another book for the same age range, Mama Always Comes Home. Here, the human connection is not made until late in the story, which starts with brief looks at mother and baby animals: birds, cats, dogs, dolphins and more. In each vignette, a mother leaves her baby or babies for a specific reason, then returns to them, because “Mama always comes home.” Eventually, the refrain applies to a human mother, whose child cries, “Don’t go away!” – but who is able to reassure her baby that, after work, she too is sure to come home. The reassurance will be especially welcome for toddlers whose mothers are working outside the home.

      The real-world connection of the teen-oriented My Mother the Cheerleader is of a different and more intense type, focusing on a time that modern children cannot remember but that many adults will want them to understand. Set in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, decades before Hurricane Katrina drowned much of the area, it is a tale of the fight for desegregation, told by a white girl – 13-year-old Louise Collins – whose mother joins an anti-integration group called the Cheerleaders and joins in daily heckling of the first black student at the local elementary school. Robert Sharenow’s first novel has strong racial language, interpersonal intensity and enough surprising, tear-jerking revelations to qualify as a TV drama (Sharenow is an executive at the A&E Network). It’s not a particularly profound book, and the things that eventually happen to the major characters will not surprise anyone who has ever watched a courageous-blacks-vs.-evil-whites portrayal of the struggle for educational integration. But the book does have something to say about what makes a woman a mother, and what makes a child feel that a woman is her mother – and that may have more lasting value than the rather trite story itself.

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