Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

My Mother Is So Smart

My Mother is So Smart!
By Tomie dePaola
Putnam, 32 pages
$16.99, ages 3 to 8

You've got to like a book that ends with a picture of a boy standing proudly next to his mom as she demonstrates a perfect headstand.
My Mother is So Smart!, by Tomie dePaola, creator of Strega Nona and dozens of other beloved children's books, celebrates the awesomeness of moms.
The protagonist knew his mother was smart from Day 1. She always changed his diaper and fed him at the right times and taught him to walk. She baked the best cookies, taught the whole neighborhood to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and on July 4th, showed the boy and his friends how to carefully write their initials in the air with sparklers. She could drive the grandfather's old delivery truck – and she could stand on her head.
Some of this mother's attributes combined with the art have an old-fashioned feel. Those familiar with dePaola's Tom, The Baby Sister, The Art Lesson, etc. will recognize this as one of his autobiographical picture books.
It's illustrated with dePaola's recognizable always-charming style, though I'd wish for a little more expression on the mother's face. She's got a somewhat vacant, unsmiling look, the same in nearly every picture. I'm curious about that choice.
In a classroom it would be a fun story starter. "My mother (or father, grandmother, sister, etc.) is so smart that ..."

Taking Care of Mama

Taking Care of Mama
By Mitra Modarressi
Putnam, 32 pages
$16.99, ages 3 to 8

When I read the title of Taking Care of Mama, by Mitra Modarressi, to the first graders at my school, one boy blurted out: "I don't take care of my mama, she takes care of me!"
After I started reading and the kids learned that mother in this story is sick with a fever, taking care of her didn't seem like such an alarming idea.
This is the sweet rhyming tale of a family of appealing raccoons. Papa, sister, brother and baby Mabel are worried when Mama wakes with a fever of 102.
"Papa called the doctor
And the doctor said,
'Please tell Mama
To stay in bed!'"
Mama protests, but the caretakers win out and spend the day making meals and – predictably – making a mess. When they discover Mama is feeling better around suppertime, they have to scramble to clean up.
There's nothing radically new about the story, but the rhyme is bouncy and fun to read aloud and Modarressi's watercolors are irresistible.
Admirably on a page where the brother and sister pretend to be doctor and nurse, the sister is the doctor, and brother is the nurse. That lead to a lively little discussion in the kindergarten class I read to. One little boy said "doctors are boys and nurses are girls" then admitted he had a woman doctor. Amazing how entrenched stereotypes are.

-Rebecca Young

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