Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Summer: Essential Reading

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We've all had to plow through long school lists of required summer reading. Whether you would have agreed at the time or not, there's an undeniable charm to having someone else gift you with reading recommendations, leaving you responsible only for the pleasure of losing yourself in their pages. This month, Literary Mama editors and columnists scour our home libraries to create our own short versions of summer must-reads for fellow mother-writers and their children. Here's a look at what we think should be on your summer reading list.

Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Co-Editor, selects The Life Within: A Celebration of Pregnancy by Jean Hegland for "all the pregnant mother-writers out there, especially those who already have kids. Not that everyone else wouldn't enjoy this beautiful book, but Hegland's poet's-eye reflection on pregnancy is simply the best writing I've ever come across on the subject. Reflective and joyful without a hint of sappiness, she gets to the heart of the wild mystery that is being two people at once. I found it difficult to focus on my second pregnancy, what with chasing a toddler around all day; this book helped me slow down and really think about 'the life within.'"

Kathy Moran, Literary Reflections Assistant Editor, adds Caroline Kennedy's A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children to the essentials list for literary families. "Its beautiful watercolor illustrations appeal to both adults and children, as do the poems written by a range of poets from Christina Rossetti to Gabriela Mistral, from Alfred Lord Tennyson to Langston Hughes. It even includes a few poems by Kennedy's mother Jacqueline Bouvier. Divided into categories that interest children, such as About Me, That's So Silly!, and Animals, this is a book that families can enjoy as they nurture the love of art, reading, and language."

Violeta Garcia-Mendoza, Literary Reflections Assistant Editor, also recommends poetic summer reading for any mother-writers, and especially for any mother-poets out there. "Poet Beth Ann Fennelly's poetry collections Open House and Tender Hooks should be required reading for any writer who fears motherhood will turn her work to drivel. Reading the two collections back-to-back, one written pre-baby, and the other post-baby, it's apparent that, rather than dilute your work, motherhood may imbue it with a complex love and tenacity, and restore it with the simultaneous senses of urgency and slowing down well known to mothers everywhere. I'd add to these titles, Fennelly's nonfiction book Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother. It gives the reader an interesting behind-the-scenes look at Fennelly's poetry and motherhood and its inspiring, funny, profound, and practical writing is some you won't easily forget."

Libby Gruner, Columnist, suggests The Blue Jay's Dance: A Birth Year by Louise Erdrich. "A friend gave me The Blue Jay's Dance while I was pregnant with my second and it has become a standard shower gift since then. It has a more lyrical approach to pregnancy and early childhood than Ann Lamott's Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (another favorite), but it doesn't shy away from the harsh realities, either—worth rereading even when you're far removed from those early days." Read Literary Mama's reviews of Blue Jay's Dance and Operating Instructions.

For the kids, Libby recommends Arnold Lobel's Fables as "One of our favorites to give to families with kids who will sit still for a story. These are quirky takes on traditional fables - stories about a camel who dances and a kangaroo family who won't behave. While they 'teach' useful lessons (be yourself, the apple doesn't fall from the tree, etc.), they do so with humor and surprise. You can read one before bed to a really squirmy kid, or several to one who'll sit still longer, and you may spirit it away to read the rest yourself."

Caroline Grant, Literary Reflections Editor, puts forth Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife as essential summer reading. "It's the best kind of engrossing, inspiring summer read: a quirky love story, a family romance, a terrific fantasy set in a familiar city (Chicago). For a busy mom who can't really take a vacation, a few hours with this book would be the next best thing."

For children, Caroline suggests "another summer fantasy: Rosemary Wells' Voyage to the Bunny Planet Series, three stories about bunnies who are having hard days, and are whisked off to the Bunny Planet to enjoy 'the day that should have been.' In my favorite, First Tomato, Claire goes from her snowy bus stop to a lush vegetable garden to make 'first tomato soup' with her mom. We could all use a visit to the Bunny Planet sometimes!"

Finally, Rebecca Kaminsky, Literary Reviews Editor and Columnist, recommends Beverly Cleary's Ramona Books as literary essentials to bond over. She writes, "I'm reading them aloud to my (soon to be) third grader and so far they have provoked discussions about 1) what it feels like to want to be grown up and also your mommy's baby all at the same time, and 2) dealing with feeling angry at the people you love. I think I'm enjoying them as much as he is. He's not a huge independent reader so my hope is to entice him so much that one night I'll find him awake and moving on to the next chapter. Hope it works!"


Violeta Garcia-Mendoza’s poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Kestrel, Coal Hill Review, and Cicada. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, and two daughters.


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