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May 14, 2012



I never comment, but this post struck a chord. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said. I think that's why college is such a profound experience for many...the first time living on your own and allowed to truly try and either fail or succeed, but regardless of the outcome, grow.


Mrs. Murry in A Wrinkle in Time? She is wrapped up in her work, but still present for the children on a real level.


I agree that mom would get in the way for a child unless the child was on vacation, boarding school, etc. Perhaps a story with a young adult character where the mother acts as a guide or consultant? Nancy Drew's dad was like that. She did the mystery solving, but he was there to help. It can be done, but I agree that the growing is done on one's own, so the story would have to be set up that way. It could be done with a mother, father or both present, it would just be a little trickier.

Konstanz Silverbow

One of the reasons my parents did not allow me to grow up watching Disney was because of the lack of mothers or fathers. My mom HATES that the mother is always dead or ran away, divorced or simply disappeared.

I think about this often as I write my stories. My first thought is ALWAYS, where will the MC's mother be?

And I am SO glad to see that you (one of my favorite authors) addressed this. Thank you!

Konstanz Silverbow


My answer was similar to yours, Heather. When you reach me by Rebecca Stead has a mother who is wrapped up in her own life but still present and lovely.


The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci features a strong mother. She is a lawyer who helps the main character and his friends deal with some of the darker sides of the town.

Jessica Snell

You know, what immediately comes to mind for me isn't a book, but a television episode: Doctor Who's Christmas special "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe". It's a take on the Lewis story, of course, but even though it's really the children's adventure, it's the mom who saves the day. It's corny, but very fun. They really couldn't have a mother be the one who runs away with the Doctor on an everyday basis, but as a one-off, where she has to enter the adventure in order to save her kids when they get in over their heads, it totally works.


I recently read Katherine Hannigan's True (Sort of), where the character has a wonderful, caring mother--but Hannigan got around the problems of maternal interference by having the main character simply not tell her mother about the real problems until things hit a crisis. I was happy to see that Hannigan did eventually allow some adult help for her characters, because the situation wound up being something that a child simply could not handle (but the kids had to learn that they couldn't handle it)--and the adults only got involved when the MC finally asked for help.


Ottoline's (Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Ridel) parents are both very much alive but off having adventures of their own, leaving her in the care of servants and Mr. Munro. Coraline's (Neil Gaiman) parents are also very much alive in Coraline and her desire to a) escape them and then b) rescue them is a huge part of her motivation. Theodosia's (R.L. LaFevers) parents are both alive but rather busy and clueless leaving her to her own adventures.


I love the mother, Eve, in Hilary McKay's books about the Casson family. (Starting with Saffy's Angel). She's absentminded, but physically present and very loving. And while she wouldn't be described as a strong personality, she definitely is a fully developed and realistic character. I talked a little about the book on my blog, here: http://everead.blogspot.com/2009/01/happy-new-reads.html

Erin Whitmer

Walk Two Moons deals with quite a few mom issues. Even though the mother isn't present the entire book Phoebe's mom's story is a big chunk of the book. Orphans are always prominent in children's literature- you're right it provides them with one huge problem right off the bat.


I've talked elsewhere about how much I would love to see a story where the hero realizes somewhere along the way that his/her family is not the nuisance he/she perceives them to be, but in fact the very unit that gives him/her the strength and skills to save the day. I think that a crucial part of being a parent is knowing when you have to stop protecting your kids and let them do their own thing, and I think that would be something lovely to show in a story.


Ramona's mother was always around, sort of? Maybe?

My friends and I have talked about this a lot I think. It isn't that children's literature (and movies) doesn't hate mothers, it's just that you can't have an adventure with your mom around! Nor would they want to go on a journey at times if they could just stay home with momma where she will love and feed you. I have never been bothered by the missing mothers or thought it was warping my children's developing minds.

Fantastic Mr Fox is about the Dad, Charlie has good parents and grandparents in Roald Dahl's books about him, and Matilda gets adopted by her teacher, who turns out to be a cool mom. I guess Danny the champion of the world could count since the book is about him and his dad, but they engage in illegal activity, don't they? But still; they are all still technically on the fringes of the story.


Cimorene, in Talking to Dragons! Okay, she's the hero of the other three books of the series (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede), but this is actually the book I read first. And here, she's the mom. And she's awesome. When I was a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be like her.


Well, there you go. I've been trying to map out the plot of a story I want to write. I had this gut feeling that my main character's mother might die. Now I know that I was right, and why. :)

Lynn Darley

In Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show), the mom is around, struggling to do her best as a single mom, a business owner and the mother of a difficult teen who was kicked out of high school. Buffy is trying hard to shield her mom from the realities of vampires and all the other stuff she runs into. In one episode, Buffy's mom holds her own remarkably well against the vampire Spike.


Tough one. Stuart Little's adoptive mother is present. Nanny characters come to mind - Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee. Brigitte the adoptive mother in The Higher Power of Lucky is there. In Deborah Wiles books, there are some strong mothers - Love Ruby Lavender, Each Little Bird that Sings, although the mother is dead in Aurora County All Stars. Hard to think of them though!


In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Percy's mother is around and involved some of the time. But she is not involved with the majority of the story.


Little House on the Prairie Series comes to mind. Little Women has a strong influencing mother. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle is a fun mothering type. Sarah, Plain and Tall is a stepmother. The first Percy Jackson series has the mother as his driving influence even if she is gone. You are right though, most of my favorites has a missing mother or else the mother figure has to be absent elsewhere. I love it when the influence is there though!


The Austin books by Madeliene L'Engle also have strong parents, but with Vicky Austin as the main character (in most of them).


Someone may have already mentioned this but: Little Women. Marmee is intelligent, self-controlled, wise and sometimes forceful. She's definitely opinionated and runs everything alone while Father is away in the war. Actually, I love Marmee as much or more than her daughters.

Anna Elliott

I think that stories--the best, most enduring stories--endure because they address our deepest, most primal fears. And who doesn't fear leaving the security of home, the comfort of knowing that your mama can always dry your tears and make everything better with a kiss or a cookie or a hug? And yet we all have to. Children grow up, seasons change . . . we all have to strike out on our own to live our own lives, make our own mark in the world. The missing mother's in stories . . . I think they actually help us overcome that fear, by showing us stories of heroines and heroes who DO strike out on their own and succeed against all odds. If Dashti can sing her mother on her way to the ancestor's realm, we think--well, surely I can leave for college/send out those query letters/embark on the totally wild, amazing, terrifying, thrilling ride of having children of my own.

Where I DO miss the moms is as heroines in their own right. Why aren't there more books with moms who journey and adventure and discover new things about themselves along the way? Aren't we mamas allowed to have adventures, too? That's actually-- Okay, trying to figure out how to say this in a non-self-promote-y way. Can I pinky swears I don't mean it like that? That's actually why I wrote my book Demon Hunter and Baby. My heroine is a kick-butt slayer of demons . . . and an adoring mom to her 9 mos. old baby girl. As a mama to two baby girls myself, I so, so loved getting to write that kind of character. And I've had SO many mama readers write in to say how much of a chord it struck with them. Up with mama heroines, I say! Every adoring mama out there IS a kick-butt awesome heroine with every boo-boo she kisses and every load of incredibly filthy laundry she washes and every finger-painted picture she oohs and ahs over as though it were an original Rembrant.


I'm thinking of the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke--not the first book when Meggie's mother is missing, but the second and third books when they're reunited and Resa becomes such a huge influence on Meggie. Although, admittedly, it's been quite a while since I read those books and the third one bored me to tears, so I don't exactly remember how much they were together...


I have this kind of discussion with my mom way too often. She likes to read my books, and the one thing she likes to point out is that the parents are always AWOL, and takes it to be a sign of my rebellion. I point out that these books are meant as coming of age stories, where the character is becoming an independent adult, but she still thinks I'm plotting to run away (and leave all my books? Never!)

Divergent is a wonderful book with a great mom. While mom isn't there much of the time, she's a powerful influence in Tris's life and at the end, you can see how awesome she really is! Here's a great blog post that lists several great moms in YA literature, that I'd definitely recommend checking out!


Whoops! The link didn't post! Here it is: http://mintteaandagoodbook.blogspot.com/2012/05/favorite-literary-moms.html


You're right that there comes a point in everyone's life where he or she has to leave the nest to find the unique place in the world for themselves. In real life, this usually happens with college or getting married or just moving out. Unfortunately, real life is usually boring to an external "reader" but not to the "characters" living it. In stories, we do have to speed things up, so a natural development that happens over several years needs to be sped up by scenarios of our own creations, like an absent mother.

One of my favorite mothers is Marmee from Little Women, but all of her daughters leave her at some point: Meg gets married, Jo and Amy explore the world, and Beth dies, which is a sad ending but an adventure in itself. Marmee is a good mother because she gives her daughters wings to fly.


In the final book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, while Cimorene isn't actually present, she is the reason her son gets the chance to be a hero, in that she knew this was something he had to do, so she kicks him out and tells him to have an adventure...in a loving, motherly way of course.

I can't really think of any example at the moment (except for the one above) but there is also the "adventure mom": the one who had her own adventures as a child, and while she may even start out protective, recognizes when the time has come for her child to have an adventure too.

Erica Ostergar

Jess's parents in Bridge to Terabithia come to mind. They're present throughout the book, and help him in his crisis. Kendra and Seth's grandparents act as great parental figures in the Fablehaven books. My favorite "present" parents in literature are probably Wesley's in Serpent Tide. His step-mom and his dad are a big part of his life and his adventures.

There are many parents I can think of that are in realistic ficiton. I think "present" parents are harder to find (and incorporate) in fantasy books because there is a stereotype of adults not believing and children having the greater imaginations. I think that's where the limit comes from; it's harder to tell a story where the adults believe in the magic.


I love that so many people mentioned Little Women! I learned so much from all of the characters, but especially Marmee. I love that book. I also liked that Percy Jackson's mom got mentioned -- she's as involved as she can be, given the setting. There are so many books -- especially the ones based off of fairy tales -- where the mothers are dead or disappear or die or something similar. Sierra St. James/Janette Rallison has a lot of books with strong mother figures -- the mom is even the main character in Masquerade, and in Deep Blue Eyes and Other Lies, All's Fair in Love, War, and High School, Revenge of the Cheerleaders, Dakota's Revenge, and Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To-Do List the mothers are all involved in their daughters' lives. Kay Lynn Mangum's three books also have involved and present mothers. Melisande in Cameron Dokey's Golden is an involved mother figure, too. It's understandable why the parents are often missing or incompetent, though, because parental involvement isn't terribly conducive to adventures.


Oh, and I think Marilla in Anne of Green Gables is an awesome mother figure, too. I love the books where Anne is the Mother, too -- she makes such a good mom, and her kids are so funny!


I never noticed (or cared about!!) the absence of moms in most fairy tales.


Both parents are around in P.B Kerrs Children of the Lamp series and the mother especially plays an important role in the children's lives. However, as always, the MCs do all the earning separated from her.




Interesting topic! Hmm, there's Mrs. Coulter in The Golden Compass. (Although she is admittedly not a role model mother.) And in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments books there is Clary's mother Jocelyn. She's not the main character and she's sort of out of the picture for the first couple books, but in the later ones she becomes a more important character. I can't think of many more, though!


In Anne of Green Gables and the rest of the series there are many motherly figures, and moms (And, of course, as mentioned above, Anne eventually becomes a mother). In The Blue Castle, Valancy's mother is very much alive and an influence (the whole story is is how Valancy gets away from her mother's influence. The mother is not likeable, by the way). In Edith Pattou's East, Rose and Neddy's mother is very much alive and a great influence on them. In Gail Carson Levine's Fairest and Ever, the mothers are alive, though in both books the main characters are away from home. In the Tail of Emily Windsnap, Emily's mother is with her much of the time, though Emily does have to sneak away to have most of her adventures. And in the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series in books 1 & 2 the parents are alive, though not present. But in books 3 and on, the original main characters are parents who end up having adventures with their own kids. Jenny proves that moms can have adventures!


The mothers in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series are a good example. They provide strong, maternal role models.

Michelle Garcia

I'm interested to see how Disney-Pixar's Brave will deal with this given the strong presence of the mother...

Stephanie Perkins

I've thought a lot about this phenomena, too. Yeah, mothers (and parents, in general) are far more likely to be a part of realistic fiction — the Ramona books, Meg Cabot's Allie Finkle series, anything Judy Blume, Junie B. Jones, etc. As you wisely pointed out, a mother would step in if anything TOO dangerous was happening to the protagonist, which is why moms are less likely to be found in fantasy, where the stakes usually HAVE to be higher. In realistic middle grade fiction, the struggle is often school or peer-related, which parents often do want their children to work out for themselves.

This idea applies to young adult literature, too. Parents are more likely to be found in contemporary YA, because they're a part of real teenage life, and they're generally absent in fantasy, paranormal, and dystopian worlds (though sometimes they're a driving force to action, like in Katniss' case).

I'm intrigued that you tried to write a fantasy in which parents were involved, but it that wouldn't work. Fascinating! But it makes sense. :-)


I actually have written a book that is about a daughter and a mother, unwillingly (the daughter is fifteen, after all) sharing a dangerous adventure in a strange land. My agent has it, and I hope he can sell it, because I love both characters. I just couldn't help writing the mother into the story. Adventures don't stop just because we get older (do they?!), and the stakes are so much higher for the mother, because she has a deeper understanding of what they really are.

Thanks for having such a great blog, Shannon!


I agree. The mother in a family is so important and yet dangerous. The mother has to have just the right balance of protecting, advising, and not standing in their childs of way of learning and becoming who they really are and who they need to be. They have to remember that they need to give the child a chance to do things and yes, though it is scary, make mistakes, and then be there for them. Giving good advise and not pushing themselves into their children's problems.

Katerina Wong

This is terribly interesting. :D

One example I know of is Divergent. Tris' mom isn't exactly always there, but she's there from time to time, providing guidance and advice. She doesn't interfere a great deal with Tris' growing up. In fact, Tris leaves home and ends up out of her mother's reach. Yet, Tris' mom is there for Tris in the most desperate times. This isn't the case in Insurgent, the sequel, but Tris' mom is still present as a guiding force in Tris' mind.

In Shanghai girls, the main characters, Pearl and May eventually become the mothers. In the sequel, Pearl is the mother trying to save her daughter.

Mother characters are quite precarious to create... but I've found, in my readings, that the more realistic a story is, the stronger the mother character. I mean this in a world sense. In a chic-lit book, the mother character tends to be stronger than in a fantasy book.


I was just re-reading Book of 1,000 Days the other day and while Dashti's mother is dead it struck me during the re-read that she was still a big influence in Dashti's life. From everything she had taught Dashti to the choices Dashti made she is everywhere and still has a strong presence even though she is physically absent.

More along the lines of main characters only being able to come into themselves when away from their mothers, I have felt that way in my own life in which I'm the "main character." I lived at home while in college and sort of became an adult but it wasn't until I left home to be a nanny on the other side of the country and again later when my husband and I moved out of state for school that I feel like I really figured out who I was and who I wanted to be. I think everyone needs to cut those apron strings in some way before they can figure out who they really are. As a good friend frequently tells newlyweds, "Leave and cleave, baby, leave and cleave."

Amelia Loken

I loved so many of the title mentioned in the post and comments. I wanted to mention the "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" series, but somebody already mentioned it. In it, grandmotherly Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has a solution for caring but frazzled parents who want to help their children through their issues. Parents are more than stock figures and many become three dimensional.
A very sweet (and funny) classic


How about Zinny's mother in Chasing Redbird? She allows her daughter to go on her journey while still making sure she's okay.

Hannah @ Lovely Woods

A mothering hero to me from children's/YA lit: Jule Ray, from the Betsy-Tacy books (all the way up to Betsy's Wedding). She's wonderful, supportive of her daughters (including Betsy in her writing, her high school social life, etc.) but certainly NOT in the way.


Sadie in Palace Beautiful has an amazing stepmom. She's not in every detail of the story, but I felt like she had a strong presence. I love that book for so many reasons.

I read a YA trilogy where the mother was an alcoholic and basically non functioning the entire time, conveniently out of the way for the real story to take place. It really bothered me through the first two books. The third book finally addressed her problems as part of the story line. It was interesting.

Heather (BookishBabe)

Aside from easing the author's job in telling the story, removing supportive parents gives us a chance to connect with the characters. We all feel isolated, misunderstood, alone in the world at times. I want to spend time with a protagonist who embodies that Motherless Child feeling we've all been through. I think Melina Marchetta does a great job in her novels of giving us complex characters with developed parents.


I tried to make a list of the books I own in which there's a good mother present and in the end it was... well under half. The most prominent mother had to be Palla in David Clement-Davies' "The Sight". She had several scenes all to herself and she seemed quite strong to me.


Not a mother, but how about Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?


Hmmm. Lauren Tarshis' Emma Jean often talks with her mother, who provides support and sometimes advice without solving her problems. John Green's protagonists tend to have mothers present at some point -- especially in The Fault in Our Stars, in which the main character has cancer.

Fantasy-wise, Diane Duane's Nita has two supportive parents (at least in the early books) who know that she's a wizard and worry without being overly involved in her choices.

It IS a challenge to come up with these titles. I wish there were more examples!

Incidentally, the MG blog From the Mixed-Up Files posted about moms on the same day you did: http://www.fromthemixedupfiles.com/2012/05/middle-grade-moms/. I wonder if Mother's Day brought the topic to mind.

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