Read it here or on The Huffington Post!
In 1995, my mother died in Sweden where she had gone to perform her one-woman show, “I Am Strindberg.” Last September my eldest daughter became a mother and I a grandmother for the first time (his name is George).
These books cover what I love as a mom and have published for Welcome Books–for mothers new and old.
The first is “My Mother’s Clothes” (Welcome Books, $24.95) by Jeannette Montgomery Barron. She was born in Atlanta to a mother with a taste for fashion and an original, quirky mind and a father who was heir to Coca Cola. His money and her passion created an incredible closet of designer names and amazing clothes. Her one daughter, Jeannette, left home first to photograph in the Andy Warhol New York art scene and then to Rome with her husband and two children. She wore jeans. When her mother became ill with Alzheimer’s Jeannette flew home and found a way back to her mother through photographs of her mother’s clothes. The resulting book is a touching and precious masterpiece of love between a mother and a daughter. It is a book of memories about a woman who had lost hers; it is a book about letting go but never forgetting.
My friend Charlie Kochman, a brilliant young editor in New York (he published “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) brought me the second book: “Mom’s Cancer” (Image, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, $12.95). The author, Brian Fies had just won an Eisner Award (also the Lulu Blooker Prize) for this little biographical graphic novel. In 116 simple and touching pages, he draws and tells the story of his mother’s struggle with lung cancer (and ultimate triumph) and the parts played by he and his two sisters. It is oddly an American everyman’s story of doctors and hospitals and denial and determination and hope. Strangely reassuring.
But, wait. There is more and no more death. If you have to choose one great book for a new mom, this is the one:
Ten years old and five hundred thousand copies later, “The Little Big Book for Moms” (Welcome Books, $24.95) is now in a new, silver gilded edition. Like an atom, it is packed but small… 352 pages but 6 1/2 x 6 1/2″ with more than three hundred images and pieces. Every young mom I know has books of every kind — fairy tales, story books, nursery rhymes, poetry books, activity books, song books, game books, recipe books in their children’s rooms — spilling off the shelves. They don’t want their little ones to miss out on the classic tales of “Princess and the Pea” or “Cinderella” but they are also parents infused with the power of Maya Angelou’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.” They love e.e. cummings, laugh aloud over Ogden Nash and adore “Charlotte’s Web” and Shel Silverstein. They want to be reminded of the words to Rub-a-Dub-Dub when their baby is in the tub, to sing Hush, Little Baby when it is time for sleep, play The Wheels on the Bus and Five Little Monkeys. They want to learn how to make hand puppets and potato stamps and water music. They love the idea of recipes that are especially yummy when their babies are two and three: Frozen Chocolate Bananas, rice pudding, pancakes & applesauce.
In other words they want to be great moms and bring great things to their little ones.
Moms has all of those things in it… it is the one book that you could leave at Grandma’s house, pack in an overnight bag for a weekend away, take in the car for a long trip, put in the kitchen to pull out when you needed the perfect chocolate birthday cupcakes.
If only I had had it when mine were little…imagine how many nights there might have been when Natasha and Katrina would have heard me ask that old familiar question, “What shall we read tonight?” and they would have answered, “Mom’s Book.”
And, then there is food. How is it possible that I only discovered Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” last year since he has been on the Food Network since 1998 winning a Peabody in 2007. He is absolutely whacky, unpredictable in his presentation and, yes, scientific but in that brilliant delicious way that Richard Feynman is. He does occasionally work behind his stove (and, how I wish, my itouch could just click and download, not just his recipes but the site to order the gadgets, saucepans, smoking tools or other brilliant paraphernalia that my very well equipped kitchen is missing). The day will come. But, I did find another big fat book (Stewart, Tabori & Chang $37.50) celebrating the first 80 episodes (good for me because I never saw those). The best news of all is that in the fall, the second one is coming (with, presumably that Swedish meatball recipe I can’t seem to find on the Food Network website). Love this delectable, smart, lovable guy, the more so now that he has paid at least some attention to the importance of HEALTHY EATS.
Which brings me to Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules” (Penguin pub, $11.00, pub). I discovered him years ago when I bought “Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” (Penguin, $26.95) but I feel like I am still learning that America’s agriculture took a particularly bad turn in the 70’s with particularly bad consequences now. If you have concerns about what you are feeding your family and wonder about the connections between what they are eating and how they are feeling, then this little pocket sized book of food rules is a superb idea. For one thing, he suggests, that since we have to eat, we should eat… food, mostly plant food and not too much of it. Sounds simple and basic enough but few of us actually eat that way. In not too many words, he tells you everything you need to know.
And, then there is the goddess, Barbara Kingsolver, whose writing I fell in love many years ago when I read her brilliant “Prodigal Summer” (Harper, $26.00). A more recent book is “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (Harper pb, $15.99) which tells the story of her family’s first year in southern Appalachia gardening, jarring and feasting on local foods, much of which they grew or made themselves. Exquisite, and lovingly written. Another way to bring yourself what you need to know about your food.
And, finally, there is a reference book to end all reference books: “1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up” (Universe ($36.95). This is for my daughter and for me as we collect all the books our little seven-month old George must never miss (whether we read them in a printed book or on Josh Koppel’s brilliant Scroll Motion iPad version). This fat 960-page tome contains hundreds of the best chosen by great children’s authors and critics. Of course, I would never have forgotten Dr. Seuss or “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are” but I might have missed Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” which Isabel Allende reviews in this packed full color reference. I certainly doubt I would ever have known about John Burningham’s “Avocado Baby” either or dozens of other authors and books from all over the world. Organized by age and brilliantly illustrated, it also pops in all kinds of marvelous lists — Silly Books, Great Collections of Fables, Recommended Books about Horses, More Great books about Granddads, Great War Books, Time-travel Tales and so on…
And, now if there were only room to talk about “The Help,” one of the great books of the last year… next time