Mother’s Day is nigh. Years ago, well before I became a mother myself, I read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, and there is a quote from that novel that always comes to my mind around this time of year:
“Walking to the honey house, I concentrated on my feet touching down on
the hard-caked dirt in the driveway, the exposed tree roots, fresh-watered
grass, how the earth felt beneath me, solid, alive, ancient, right there every
time my foot came down. There and there and there, always there. The things
a mother should be.”
If you celebrate Mother’s Day and are looking for new picture book offerings about mothers who are there and there and there, always there, I’ve two to share today.
Mommy’s Khimar, on shelves in April, comes from the new Simon & Schuster imprint Salaam Reads, founded as recently as 2016. According to their site, their goal is to “introduce readers of all faiths and backgrounds to a wide variety of Muslim children and families and offer Muslim kids an opportunity to see themselves reflected positively in published works.” For this cheery picture book, they turned to debut author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, a 2016 MuslimARC (Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative) AMEL Fellow. (AMEL stands for American Muslims Educating for Liberation.) The illustrator is Ebony Glenn, who lives just outside of Atlanta.
Told from the point of view of a young African-American Muslim girl, Mommy’s Khimar invites readers to see the girl’s adoration for her mother and her fascination with her mother’s khimar. “A khimar is a flowing scarf that my mommy wears,” the book clarifies on page one. The girl adoringly watches her mother wrap her head in the scarf; explores her mother’s closet, filled with khimars of many colors; and plays dress-up in her favorite fabric, the vivid yellow one. She pretends to be a queen; she pretends she’s a shooting star, diving into a “pile of clouds.” She pretends to be the mama bird watching over her baby brother. She even fashions the khimar into a cape and zips around like a superhero.
Family other than her mother, including her father and “Mom-Mom,” are lovingly depicted throughout. In fact, her grandmother, readers learn, doesn’t go to a mosque as the girl and her family do. (She even drops a “Sweet Jesus!” in delight when she sees her granddaughter.) But they are a family, the author writes, and “we love each other just the same.” Though the girl adores her entire family, it’s her mother who steals her heart—at least for now. And, to the child, the khimar is about more than just its aesthetic pleasures and possibilities for creative play. “Mommy is with me even when she’s away,” we read, if the girl is wearing the khimar. She closes her eyes and smells it, breathing in her mother’s particular scents and finding comfort in doing so.
Glenn’s sunny illustrations—they are bright in more ways than one, as there’s abundant happiness in the girl’s life, as well as yellows that nearly glow from the pages—look as if, stylistically, they could be Disney-film stills with their overt sweetness, bright-eyed characters, and radiant colors. There’s a lot of movement here, too, especially for a book about scarves. The girl runs, plays, and imagines, her yellow khimar flying behind her.
For a picture book with a more subdued style and palette, there’s Kate Hosford’s Mama’s Belly, illustrated by Abigail Halpin. “Mama has a belly rising up, like a wave,” the girl who narrates the story tells readers. “Inside is my sister, waiting to meet me.” The story follows the girl, mother and father in tow, as she gives it all she’s got in the name of entertaining the child in mama’s belly, singing to her and talking to her.
While many picture books about a new sibling feature the older sibling of a newborn feeling misplaced and perhaps a bit neglected, this is a book focusing on the child’s enthusiasm and joy for the sibling. Eager to meet her new sister, she plans how she will assist (she will “rub her back in tiny circles” if she cries) and asks questions of her mother about the baby’s impending arrival.
Both author and illustrator don’t shy from Mama’s occasional discomfort. She is large with child, after all. “I haven’t seen my toes in weeks!” she says at one point, and later she opts for a nap on the couch, instead of playing with the girl. It’s a realistic, yet affectionate, portrayal of life before birth — for those outside of the belly, that is. And this is all the book wants to be about; on the final page, the girl is still waiting, arms stretched around her Mama’s belly. (Observant readers, however, will spot the illustration on the closing copyright page, which features a new family photo-of-four.)
There’s a coziness to Halpin’s illustrations, which place the family in a house on a lake. There’s nary a cell phone or even television to be seen, as if the family is truly nesting in their small home, awaiting the birth. The illustrations feature rich hues—the deep blue of Mama’s dress, the rosy red of the girl’s shirt, and the dark greens of the trees that surround their home. The girl’s occasional imaginative flights of fancy, as she envisions life with her sister, flow across the page, Halpin surrounding them with pale blue leaves. Simply lovely.
Two mothers, always there. Two stories worth sharing with children on Mother’s Day—or any day of the year.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
MAMA'S BELLY. Text copyright © 2018 by Kate Hosford. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Abigail Halpin. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Abrams, New York.