Several years ago a single-parent friend of mine with a preschool daughter asked for a suggestions of picture books featuring single mothers, or characters who could be single mothers. Thanks in part to the dearth of dads in picture books (about which more next month), it was easier than you'd think to pull together a list.
That preschool daughter is now in middle school, but some of my favorites from back then are on today's list, along with a few newer gems:
Mama, I'll Give you the World, by Roni Schotter.
This is one of those books that makes adults go "Awwww..." and that kids love too. The story is pretty simple: for her mother's birthday, Luisa plans a surprise dance party, along with Mama's co-workers and customers at Walter's World of Beauty. But the depth of love subtly depicted between mother and daughter, and S. Saelig Gallagher's poignant, playful, gold-tinged illustrations (I was surprised they didn't at least get a Caldecott honor last year) make this one a classic.
A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams.
Rosa and her mother and grandmother have lost their home in a fire; they have a new place to live now, but nowhere comfortable to sit. They save their change until the big jar is full, and then buy.... a chair. A wonderful, beautiful, comfortable chair. Like Mama, I'll give You the World, this is a warm tale of family and community. If you haven't ever seen this book, give yourself a treat and buy or reserve it.
Jonathan and his Mommy, by Irene Smalls.
Jonathan and his mommy take a walk through the neighborhood, matching their steps to how they feel: zig-zag steps, big steps with big voices, and then finally Jonathan-and-Mommy steps home. Sometimes it's hard to find picture books for younger preschoolers depicting African-American kids; this simple, friendly story would be a nice read-aloud to a crowd or a good book for sharing with one child before (or after) your own neighborhood walk.
First Tomato, by Rosemary Wells.
I'll admit it: I'm a sucker for the Bunny Planet books, and this one is my favorite of the three. Claire's idealized "day that should have been" takes place in a garden, where her mother asks her to pick the first ripe tomato and bring it inside. Claire is tempted to eat the tomato and "never, ever tell," but her honesty is rewarded. Her mother's words, "I've made you First Tomato Soup, because I love you so," are often echoed in our house at mealtimes.
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey.
Another food-gathering book featuring a mom-and-daughter duo. Little Sal goes to Blueberry Hill with her mother, to gather berries to save for winter. Only Little Sal--who really is quite little, maybe two at the oldest--is more interested in eating the berries than in putting them in her little tin bucket. When she wanders off and runs into Little Bear and his mother, also out eating berries...well, things turn out all right, this being a children's book, but adults who know the ways of bears may find it harrowing. Still, kids love the simple dark-blue ink illustrations, the gentle humor of the mix-up, and the repetition of that lovely "ker-plink, ker-plank, ker plunk!" as the berries fall into Sal's bucket.
Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman.
Grace's mother and Nana help her find the strength to stay true to her dreams when her classmates insist that she can't play Peter Pan in the class production because she's Black. My favorite aspect of this book is Grace's powerful love of story and of acting, and her absolute confidence in her own abilities. Would that we all had such faith in ourselves!
Fox All Week, by Edward Marshall. This dryly funny easy-reader series is easily my first-grade daughter's favorite. In this title, featuring one short mishap-laced story for each day of the week, Fox volunteers to take over for his beleaguered mom and cook Friday dinner for the family. Mom and little sister Louise are a bit concerned about all the crashing and banging coming from the kitchen, but when the three sit down to dinner...let's just say that there were no major disasters.
A Mother for Choco, by Keiko Kazsa.
In this nice companion to (and subtle commentary on) Are You My Mother? Choco, a puffy-cheeked yellow birdling, goes searching for a mother, only to be rejected by one creature after another because he doesn't look like them. When Mrs. Bear takes him in , she makes it clear that it's love, not appearances, that count.
Five Little Monkeys Bake a Birthday Cake (formerly known as Don't Wake Up Mama!) by Eileen Christelow
Oooh, those nutty monkeys! Christelow has written a whole bunch of books about their antics, but this is the one my family enjoys most. It's Mama's birthday, and her five little monkeys are determined to surprise her with a wonderful cake. Only they're not so good at cooking, it turns out...oh, well, never mind; Mama would certainly rather be greeted by a safe family and a platoon of firefighters than have her birthday forgotten.
And a Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers reading: single, partnered, adoptive, and everyone else. May it be replete with the dessert of your choice and some time to sit and read a good book.