April 21, 2016
(++++) AH, PARENTING!
The Mother-Daughter Dance. By Cathy Guisewite. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.
Fowl Language: Welcome to Parenting. By Brian Gordon. Andrews McMeel. $14.99.
Silly Wonderful You. By Sherri Duskey Rinker. Illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $17.99.
You Made Me a Mother. By Laurenne Sala. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Harper. $15.99.
All We Know. By Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Jane Dyer. Harper. $17.99.
Pretty much every parent has likely heard some variation on the question, “If there’s a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, why isn’t there a children’s day?” And pretty much each mother or father has probably answered something like, “Every day is children’s day.” In that spirit, every spring inevitably brings forth a new crop of wry, amusing, “awwww” books to celebrate family days of all sorts. And who knows the mother-and-daughter dynamic better than Cathy Guisewite, whose long-running Cathy comic strip still has plenty to say to adult children and parents of adult children? The small-size hardcover gift book, The Mother-Daughter Dance, neatly encapsulates a lot of what is involved in having, or trying to have, a grown-up relationship between two grown-ups who just happen to be intimately genetically related. “Sometimes moms just need to give and daughters just need to let them,” says one left-hand page, while the opposite right-hand one shows adult Cathy and her mom at the breakfast table as her mom says, “I will eat the stale, charred fragments of the burned crust so you, my beautiful baby, can have the perfect piece!!” Another left-hand page says, “With every passing year, a mother and daughter have more common ground and less chance they’ll be standing on any of it together.” And the right-hand page has mom remarking, “Age spots! Welcome to the club! I remember the first time I saw…” as Cathy runs from the room, shrieking her trademark “AAACK!” Yet another left-hand page says, “It’s so easy to give to a mother. So hard to get her to keep anything.” And on the right, Cathy’s mom has just unwrapped a package containing a brand-new handbag, which she is now holding out to Cathy as she says, “This is too beautiful for me! I want you to have it!” Well, one thing The Mother-Daughter Dance shows that daughters can give and mothers will keep is love. In fact, mothers can give it back and still keep it all.
This does not, however, mean that being a parent is anything close to a sweetness-and-light experience. At least not all the time. Brian Gordon’s Web cartoon, Fowl Language, is now available in book form, and if it scarcely has the warmth and sense of underlying delight that Cathy offers, it has other things that will make parents sit up and take notice. Including, yes, foul language. The title is of course a pun – the parents here are ducks, father Dick and mother Jackie, and they have two ducklings, and the cartoons, most of them single-panel, offer Gordon’s take on parenting experiences to which book readers and Web-site visitors alike will, for better or worse, relate. One panel shows an extremely bizarrely dressed duckling and is captioned “‘What would a crazy, homeless princess wear?’ (What my 3-year-old asks herself every time she gets dressed.)” Another shows a super-enthusiastic duckling jumping on exhausted daddy duck’s stomach, with the caption, “FACT: Small children actually get more hyper when they’re overtired. This phenomenon is called ‘sucks to be you.’” Still another splits the single panel into two, the first called “Daycare Drop Off” with the child saying, “No!!! Don’t make me go!!” and the second called “Daycare Pick Up” with the child saying, “No!!! Don’t Make Me Leave!!” And then there is “ME-TIME,” another split-in-two panel, with a smiling daddy duck at the left, drink and popcorn and TV remote at the ready, saying “Finally! Kids are asleep. Chores are done. From now until bedtime I can do whatever I want!” – and, on the right side, the same scene “Moments Later,” with the parent sound asleep, drink spilled, TV ignored…you get the idea. The language in Fowl Language is stronger than it really needs to be for the scenes, but that is probably because this is the Internet age and what used to seem like strong verbiage now seems pretty doggone (or duck-gone) mild. The actual scenes are ones that parents in any age (and of any age) will recognize, and parents will find plenty of things to chuckle at as long as they keep the book out of reach of their children.
Much better books to share with kids are ones featuring some of today’s top illustrators and cartoonists, but clearly designed for parent-child interaction. Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell, an expert at heartwarming art and sentiments, lends his special brand of cuteness to Sherri Duskey Rinker’s Silly Wonderful You, a celebration of messes and crashes and grumpiness and stinkiness and all the other things that make a house with a small child a home. “Since there was you,” Rinker writes, “my days start oh-so-early, with bright-eyed alarm clocks,” and McDonnell obligingly calls up a super-early-morning scene featuring a mom with one eye open as a little girl with both eyes wide open peeks over the edge of the bed. “Since there was you,” Rinker continues, “I’m always surprised at how much fun you are, and how GINORMOUSLY I love you.” And McDonnell offers the little girl wearing butterfly wings and her mom happily breaking away from kitchen chores so the two can go running outdoors and mom can lift her daughter WAY UP in the air. Yes, mom gets tired, even exhausted, after a full day of delight with her little girl – Rinker says so and McDonnell adeptly shows it – but the whole point here, even when worn-out mom falls asleep in a chair and can’t-get-to-sleep daughter comes looking for her, is that “dreams really do come true” as the two cuddle together and drift off to rest. All right, every parent knows life is not really this heartwarming, but where is the harm in pretending, at least for a while, and especially when reading a book with a child, that all the irritations and hassles really are worth it? They are, you know – or can be.
The message is much the same in Laurenne Sala’s You Made Me a Mother, which benefits enormously from the recognizably Fancy Nancy-like illustrations of Robin Preiss Glasser. This is all about “Love. Big fat love.” The worries of a mother-to-be before baby is born, and the life transformation afterwards. The realization “that I would spend my life doing things to make you happy. And that would make me happy.” Here too there is acknowledgment that not everything is perfect: “Sure, there are times I still get nervous” shows mom sitting on her child’s bed as the child screams from – pain? nightmare? something else? “But then you smile,” writes Sala, “and I remember that everything is magic.” And then, with the few words “and love would rain down all over you,” there is a perfect two-page illustration showing the little girl, looking almost exactly like Fancy Nancy, romping in the rain (in three different poses) while umbrella-carrying mom looks back in delight and, on the next page, tosses the umbrella aside for no reason more complicated than joy. A purely celebratory story that will likely bring tears to the eyes of moms and dads alike, You Made Me a Mother makes a perfectly wonderful read-aloud and look-at-it-together book for just about anytime.
All We Know is a better book for kids just learning to read, who want to read to mom rather than have her read to them. Although intended, like Rinker’s and Sala’s books, for ages 4-8, Linda Ashman’s offers words in much bigger, easy-to-read type and presents its story in a pleasant poetic cadence – with Jane Dyer’s warmly atmospheric illustrations using more close-ups than do those of McDonnell and Glasser, lending this book a high level of intimacy. The theme here is the same as in You Made Me a Mother, but the perspective is different, with the mother narrating a story about all the things that just happen naturally in the world before she flashes back to the time just before her child was born and how she “just knew” how much love there would be between them. The mundane scenes move from indoors to outdoors: “A pup knows how to wag. A kitten, how to play./ Swallows fly to winter homes and never lose their way.” And the mother-child relationship is cast as part of a grand natural one: “The stars know how to shine. The earth knows how to turn./ The sun knows when to wake each day – it didn’t need to learn.” By the end of this easy-to-read, easy-to-enjoy book, which shows the mom reading a book to her child as a cat and dog look on with near-human pleasure, the message is abundantly clear: love is as natural a thing as can be, and there is plenty of it in the household shown in All We Know and, by extension, in the household of the family that is reading Ashman’s book.