OK, people, the following story will send chills down (up?) your spine. It will, at least, if you're anything like me. Here's the e-mail I got:
My daughter is almost three years old, and has started to realize that
not all moms work full time (as I do). She likes to bring this up
frequently, pointing out all the literary and real-life moms who don't
have to work, which, as you might imagine, feels pretty lousy. I'm
wondering if there are any books for this age group which have working
parents, especially moms, in them. I don't think the books need to be
ABOUT working parents, just some mention of "and then mom goes off to
work," would probably help. She's a voracious story-listener, and her
current favorites include Paddington Bear, Elmo stories, The Carp in the
Bathtub (which, by the way, is great!), Tango Makes Three, Corduroy,
Blueberries for Sal, The Story of Ping… and on and on. Now that I
think about it, there seems to be an animal theme, but I don't think
So the first thing I thought (my God forgive me) was "Well, there's The Berenstain Bears and Mama's New Job," before I came to my senses and realized, wait, that book is sort of terrible, and the readers of this blog will all rise up together and screech if I introduce that vampire colony to someone's home, and besides, it's all about the family's adjusting to Mama's new job, it's not a book in which it is an accepted fact of life that the mother has a job.
So OK, no problem, I'd just think of something else, that's all. Right?
And then I thought. And I thought. And I thought. And I realized, Holy crap, she's right. There are tons of books for middle schoolers, and even younger school-age children in which the mothers work, but when it comes to picture books? Strange little animal families you read to a three-year-old? All I could see was a great, yawning abyss.
Now, it's true that for a lot of these books, the focus isn't the parents at all. Often the parents just don't come up. But often they do, and when they do, the father goes to work and the mother is…home.
There is Are You My Mother? You could argue that the mother bird's job is to go out and get food for her baby. But she leaves him alone and it's sort of traumatic, and it's not really a job, it's more like grocery shopping. There are a whole slew of books in which the mother goes out (Carl, Cat in the Hat, Bear and Roly Poly), but for whatever reason they always make sure to mention that she's going shopping or something (ah, the good old USA where as long as you consume, everything is OK). And the dads…well, they work. They work in Little Fur Family, they work in Richard Scarry*. The bus driver in Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is, of course, a man. The mom in No, David! is home. Sure, there are working females (who can forget Doctor DeSoto, the dentist, and his wife, who is also his assistant?), but they aren't mothers.
At this point I really started freaking out. I mean, could this really be possible? Is every classic picture book like this? And HOW COULD I NOT HAVE NOTICED? This is what freaks me out even more. I went to Diana, who couldn't think of any. I dropped into a few bookstores and found almost nothing, except for this book, which I think I remember having a working mother (that's why her Nana takes her to the show, right?). So there is this:
It is terrific. Though it brings up a weird anomaly: the only books that even hint at mothers' working, are books about non-white children. The book we just talked about—A Chair for My Mother—has a mother who is a waitress. But there isn't the sense that this is a fulfilling job, it's presented much more as an exhausting economic necessity. Which, of course, work is for most people (me included), but that isn't quite how it's framed when it's the father who works.
So what the heck is going on? Have we really been reading our children scene after scene of an idealized fifties existence? Can't we bring more to it?
I say, let's blow the lid off this thing: surely you guys can think of some other books. Maybe I'm not remembering? Maybe there is a family of ducks somewhere that go to day care while their mom goes off to be a physicist? Or a pharmacist? Or something?
And if you can't, then here is my impassioned plea: write one.
*I almost forgot, in one of the hospital books, the two doctors are Mr. Doctor Doctor and Mrs. Doctor Doctor, she's an ob/gyn and pediatrician, I think. I believe this is in Richard Scarry's Best Read It Yourself Book Ever, which is true to its title.