Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, May 6, 2007

Timeless Tales Are Heartfelt Tribute to Mothers

Happy Mother's Day! For all our mothers, grandmothers, guardians and caregivers and all the special things you do for us each day, sit back and enjoy these four stories dedicated to mothers everywhere. Though they may not be brand new, their themes are timeless. Author Mike Thaler, famous for his wacky school series "The Black Lagoon," puts humor aside and describes the special relationship between a mother and her child in Owly, the story of a little owl with a penchant for questions.

Owly is 2 years old and full of curiosity about the world around him. Sound familiar, moms? Every night it's a new question. "How many stars are in the sky?" "How high is the sky?" "How deep is the ocean?"

Every night Owly's mother sends him out to discover the answers. Each morning he returns with his observations.

"More than I can count." "Higher than I can fly." "Almost as deep as the sky." One night, however, Mother asks Owly a question of her own: "How much do you love me?"

Owly's answer will surprise and delight all moms (feathered or not) and is sure to bring out the hankies.

In one of his breakthrough publications, three-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner's illustrations provide the right amount of softness and shading to this classic example of a mother's abiding love for her child.

A child's endless effort to please his mother is the subject of author/illustrator Diane Goode's The Most Perfect Spot.

What could be better on a sunny day than a picnic in the park? Jack, our little Mister Thoughtful, plans such an outing for his elegantly attired mother. After leaving their stylish brownstone for the nearby park all plans go awry, however. A pleasant boat ride in the lake offers the most perfect spot until a flock of mallards capsizes the boat.

Soggy but not downtrodden, our picnicking pair opts for another perfect spot - a tree-lined green. Ah, serenity. Oops, wrong again. Dapper riders on dashing horses gallop through the green splashing mud all over our hungry twosome.

Mother's pink, floppy-brimmed chapeau definitely suffers. Next, high winds end a musical ride on the park's carousel as Mother's hat disappears altogether this time.

Still undaunted they finally open their picnic basket amid scores of other picnicking families just as a driving rain forces them back home. Did Jack and his mother ever find the "most perfect spot"? You bet. Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed a winsome pup throughout the story. Let's just say he provides the perfect ending to a most perfect story.

Goode's watercolor paintings in vibrant shades of greens, blues, and pinks provide the "perfect" background for this tale set in the 1920s.

Any mother who has uttered "Five minutes peace - just give me five minutes peace" will absolutely, positively appreciate Jill Murphy's ode to privacy, Five Minutes Peace.

Mrs. Large watched her three young pachyderms eating breakfast. It "was not a pleasant sight." Fixing herself a tray filed with buttered toast, muffins and a pot of tea, she heads for the bathroom for a bubble bath soak. Lester, Laura and the baby ask, "Where are you going?" "To the bathroom." "Why?" "Because I want five minutes' peace from all of you E that's why." With the morning newspaper in her bathrobe pocket and pink spongy hair curlers atop her head, Mrs. Large heads for a few minutes of sublime peace and quiet (followed by the three little Larges, of course.)

Alas, the few minutes of bliss end when Lester just has to play a new song on his recorder. Laura just has to practice her reading, and the baby just has to dump all of his bath toys into the tub. Before long all three children are in the tub with Mom, splashing and frolicking as only little elephants can do. Mother's five minutes of peace and quiet have definitely been interrupted.

Leaving the bathroom, she once again informs them that she needs five minutes of peace. Ensconced at the kitchen table, she finally gets to read the morning paper, enjoy her tea, and have exactly "three minutes and forty-five seconds of peace before they all came to join her."

Look for other Large family adventures.

A Russian proverb says, "We do not love people because they are beautiful, but they seem beautiful to us because we love them."

Becky Reyher's Caldecott-Honor book, My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, is a tribute to that maxim.

Long ago in the fields of the Ukraine, all the villagers were busy "cutting and gathering wheat."

Marfa and Ivan and all their children helped with the harvest. Varya, 6 years old, went too, but her little legs could not keep up with the others. The sun was so hot and her feet were so tired that before long little Varyachka fell asleep. When she woke, she could not see her mother.

"Poor little thing," one woman said. This made Varya want her mother even more. Questioning the little one, the harvesters learned that she thought her mother "is the most beautiful woman in the world." With this new information, everyone scattered to find the beautiful lady.

The book's ending will amaze and astonish readers. For no matter whether she is tall and slim or short and stout, to each of us our mother is truly "the most beautiful woman in the world."

Ruth Gannett's resplendent gouache-and-watercolor pictures provide charm and authenticity.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.