When I was a kid, books were like my third parent. I absorbed the wholesome lessons of loyalty to friends, obedience to parents and faith in myself as if a stack of children’s novels were my personal guide to life. At the time, I didn’t consider the impact that children’s literature would have on me as an adult, but as I crossed over from my teen years, I began to see that parental figures were often the unsung heroes of my favorite children’s books. For this week’s Five on Friday, here are the characters who influenced me the most as a parent.
By: Frank B. Gilbreth
In Cheaper By The Dozen, twelve children are raised in unconventional yet orderly fashion in the early 1900s. Frank Gilbreth, their larger-than-life father, views his children with herd mentality, teaching them everything from adding large sums to touch-typing on the typewriter (a revolutionary system at the time) by drilling them, encouraging competition and rewarding the winners. Frank’s character taught me that it’s possible to challenge children as learners while instilling a lively sense of fun and finding humor in moments of mishap.
Best parental scene: One of the younger daughters bids to paint a long fence for a very low allowance, committing to much more work than she’s capable of. Frank makes her stick to her word and finish the fence, but rewards her with the pair of roller skates she was saving for.
By: L. M. Montgomery
Anne is mistakenly delivered to the Cuthbert siblings in place of the boy they needed to help around the house. Marilla is initially reluctant to keep Anne and raise her as a daughter. Her first unintentionally parental act is to protect the child from adoption by the neighbor who would have treated her as a servant; Marilla is then persuaded to keep Anne based on her brother Matthew’s affection for the child. Marilla makes many mistakes and much of the drama from the book stems from a mismatch of temperaments between Anne and her adoptive mother. But Marilla teaches the reader that it’s possible to be an unprepared, fallible parent yet come to grow enormously as a mother and a person.
Best parental scene: Marilla learns not to speak too literally when Anne confesses to a crime she didn’t commit based on Marilla’s wording of the impending punishment.
By: Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Ingalls family moves West in a covered wagon through increasingly unsettled territory. They pioneer their way through conflicts with Native Americans, plagues of locusts and deadly cold winters. At times, they thrive; other times, they struggle to survive. Through it all, Ma carries the heart of the family with her patience, integrity and high standards, often doing so while playing second fiddle to her husband’s outgoing nature and sense of adventure. Ma Ingalls taught me that women who put their family first can still have a sense of self and a strength of spirit.
Best parental moment: Ma makes a clean, swept home out of a literal hole in the ground in Little House on Plum Creek.
By: Louisa May Alcott
Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth March are four girls living with their mother in Massachusetts during the Civil War. Their father is off fighting the Confederates; they live in near-poverty, yet Marmee still manages to teach her daughters about giving and self-sacrifice. She regularly cares for the Hummels, a German family poorer than the Marches, even encouraging the girls to give the Hummels their Christmas dinner. When Beth falls ill with scarlet fever and the doctors have given up hope, Marmee nurses her back from death. Marmee’s fortitude against difficulties and ability to infuse morality into daily life is an inspiration for modern parents.
Best parental scene: Marmee lets the four girls indulge themselves in pure fun until they become sick of their own excesses, then teaches them that good work is necessary to the enjoyment of life.
By: J.K. Rowling
The Weasleys have different temperaments, but as parents, they’re cut from the same cloth. Even though they’re on the front lines of the Order of the Phoenix, warriors for Dumbledore and ad hoc guardians of Harry, their son’s orphaned best friend, they still manage to create a loving family environment and take the antics of their lively brood in stride. Molly Weasley is the ultimate witch homemaker and fierce protector of her children’s futures; Arthur is the provider who won’t sacrifice principles for galleons. From the Weasleys, readers learn what it’s truly like to balance home, career and oh yeah, fighting the most dangerous dark wizard of all time.
Best parental moments: Arthur Weasley’s excitement over his sons flying the family car; Molly Weasley yelling, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” as she pushes Ginny aside to duel Bellatrix Lestrange.
It’s the season for celebrating parents! If you’d like to give a nod to other parent role models from classic children’s literature, please share them with Leanne @sowulwords and DIY MFA with #5onFri!
Leanne Sowul is a writer, teacher and mother from the Hudson Valley, NY. She sometimes thinks that all her most important life lessons were learned from children’s books. Leanne writes historical fiction and memoir, and just completed her first YA novel. Her blog Words From The Sowul is a haven for writers, readers and lovers of words. Find the blog at leannesowul(dot)com, or Leanne herself at leannesowul(at)gmail(dot)com.