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

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In Rumer Godden’s unforgettable Story of Holly and Ivy, a little girl named Ivy runs away from her lonely orphanage life in search of a grandmother with whom to spend Christmas.  She has no grandmother, of course, but her need for love and care is so strong that she believes in her own fantasy not as a comforting dream, but as truth.  When she wanders the cold streets of Aylesbury repeating, “I must find my grandmother,” she means it.  She must find a home in the world, and in the story’s touching dénouement, she does.  The great-grandmother in Godden’s “The Fairy Doll," published along with Holly and Ivy in the regrettably out-of-print Four Dolls, is a figure of love as well, but also of wisdom and self-respect.  She gives her great-granddaughter Elizabeth a doll that encourages her in the face of her bullying siblings, and helps her gain confidence while working to overcome her weaknesses.  Godden's grandmothers are at once real people and the means by which wishes are granted; sometimes, grandmothers can provide something slightly magical that nobody else can.

Caroline Grant, Editor-in-Chief, reminds us of another enduring classic: “One of my family's very favorite children's books is Little Bear's Visit, about a day Little Bear spends with his grandparents. Else Holmelund Minarik's text focuses on the sweet and simple pleasures of trying on grandfather's big hat, being spoiled by grandmother's cooking, and listening to familiar family stories about Little Bear's mother when she was a child; Maurice Sendak's line drawings beautifully capture the lively mood of the day."

“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa writes, Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng is a glimpse of a grandmother who died years before her granddaughter Suhaila was born. Suhaila's mother compares Grandma Annie to the moon, 'full, soft, and curious,' and one night, a golden ladder unfurls to let Suhaila and Grandma Annie visit the moon and behold the world together. Suhaila marvels at beauty, mourns suffering, and works to heal others, to help them 'learn to move forward and upward and around.' Grandma Annie is based on Stanley Ann Dunham (mother of Soetoro-Ng and president-reelect Barack Obama), an anthropologist who woke her own children to view the moon. Lavishly illustrated by Mexican American artist Yuyi Morales, this large-format picture book complements Janny Scott's biography A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother, and offers 'sweet moondew' for all ages."

Columns Editorial Assistant Irena Smith offers her own enthusiastic recommendation for “absolutely, without question, hands-down, one-of-those-books-that-makes-you-glad-you-have-little-kids-so-that-you-can-read-it-over-and-over:  Kate Lum's hilarious What! Cried Granny.  It tells the story of an unusual sleepover.  It's almost bedtime at Patrick’s grandmother’s house, but he just can't settle down: he doesn't have his blanket, he doesn't have his teddy bear, he doesn't have his bed. And with each complaint, indefatigable granny, armed with a red purse that makes its way into every illustration, cries, 'What!' and jumps to it-- cutting down a tree, planing the boards, and nailing together a bed, shearing sheep to make a comforter, tearing down her curtains to stitch together a teddy bear, and so on. The angular, off-kilter, exaggerated '50's-style (think Mad Men, but for children) illustrations are bright and engaging, and the humor is simple enough for a three-year-old and sophisticated enough for an adult tired of the usual saccharine bedtime fare."

“Birthing the Mother Writer” Columnist Cassie Premo Steele shares, “The best book I've ever seen about grandmothers (for kids and parents and grandparents alike) is All the Mamas by Carol Gandee Shough.  The book shows each mama through the generations, from cyber mom working at what could be her Literary Mama column to farming mom and immigrant mom through the ages. Beautiful and touching illustrations, too!”

Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle rounds out this month’s selections with a heavier tale of grandmotherhood, wherein the magic is not so easy to create: “In Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler, Maggie Moran convinces her husband to take a slight (that is, major) detour from a road trip to go visit their only grandchild, who was conceived courtesy of an ill-fated young romance between her son and the flighty Fiona. What Maggie has not told her husband is that she's hoping to convince Fiona to allow the girl, named Leroy, to come back to Baltimore and live with them. What she finds is not the cherubic toddler she remembers, but a wary, gawky, scrawny girl who doesn't even really know her. This book is about much more than grandparenthood, but I've always found it poignant and painful how Maggie seems to want to correct her own well-intentioned parenting mistakes with a new generation.”

Libby Maxey lives in rural Massachussetts with her husband and two young sons. With her academic career as a medievalist having died a stunningly swift death by childbirth, she now works as an editor, writes poetry, reads when able, and sings with her local light opera company. Her work has appeared in The Mom Egg Review, Tule Review, Crannóg Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, Mezzo Cammin and elsewhereHer first poetry chapbook, Kairos, won the Finishing Line Press New Women’s Voices contest.

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