Why Moms Matter in YA and Children’s Literature

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Reading

The first thing you learn when writing for children and teens is that you have to get rid of the parents.  With parents or other adults around, the kids don’t have as many opportunities to go on adventures or get into trouble.  The easiest way to solve this problem is to kill off (or otherwise dispose of) the parents.  I find, though, that getting rid of the parents altogether is often a mistake because parents matter in children’s literature.  Moms matter.  We’re just a few short days before Mother’s Day (my first Mother’s Day where I’m an actual mommy!) so today I thought I’d do a little ode to why moms matter in Kidlit and YA.

1.  They provide conflict.

Read any of Carolyn Mackler’s novels and you’ll find that the central conflict for the teen protagonist often revolves around her relationship with her mother.  In The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things,Virginia has to find her own identity, independent of the identity that her mother tries to steer her toward.

2.  They can incite a story.

In Sarah Beth Durst’s Icethe story really begins when Cassie gives up her own freedom in order to free her mother from the trolls.  If it had not been for her mother trapped in the troll castle, the story never would have unraveled from there.

3.  They provide a safe place in a world of chaos.

Though Katniss’ mother doesn’t play a huge role in The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins), she does provide a safe place, a home base.  In the first book of the trilogy, the mother doesn’t appear very much, but in Catching Fire,when Gale is wounded, she springs into action with her healing skills.

4.  And did I mention the conflict?

In Coe Booth’s Tyrell, the mother’s inability to get her act together and take care of her family is what pushes Tyrell into his caretaker role.  If the mother had been a regular, responsible mother, then Tyrell wouldn’t need to take care of his younger brother and he never would have come up with the plan that drives the story.

5.  Finally, even when they’re not around, the mother’s presence can be felt.

Perhaps the best example of a mother who has a strong impact on the protagonist is Lily, Harry’s mother in the Harry Potter series.  While we never see Lily, but we know her selfless sacrifice is partly what protects Harry throughout the series. To all the mothers, moms and mommies out there: you’re awesome!  I’m honored to be joining the ranks of mommyhood and I hope I can live up to amazing women who have been moms long before me.  Despite the stress, scuffs and struggles, just remember: kids would not exist without their mothers.  And neither would storybook characters.

To my own Mami: this one’s for you.

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