My Favorite Literary Mothers- A Book List

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By Jaime Showmaker


It's Mother's Day in the United States this weekend, and in celebration and honor of our beloved mothers, I thought that I would take the opportunity to share a list of books that include some of my very favorite mothers in literature. Enjoy!


Little Women- Louisa May Alcott

You can hardly have a list of beloved literary mothers and begin with anyone other than Marmee. Mrs. March is almost the quintessential ideal mother. She is wise, kind, loving, and compassionate to her four growing daughters. She regularly models hospitality and selflessness, sharing with the needy and tending to the sick, in spite of limited financial resources and an often absent husband.  At a time when many women were still regarded as somewhat second-class citizens, Marmee encouraged her daughters to pursue their passions and creativity.  Her gentle, quiet, practical, and strong devotion to her family shines through in every moment. 


Little Men-Louisa May Alcott

With a mother like Marmee, it is no wonder that Jo March Bhaer also shines as one of the most memorable mothers in literature. In the sequel to Little Women, Jo is mother to not only her own boys, but an entire school full of boys at Plumfield, the academy she runs with her Professor husband. Jo is a perfect, spunky "boy mom," though wisdom can be gleaned from these pages for mothers of either gender. She takes delight in the individuality of each child and nourishes their humanity with compassion, belief, and ingenuity. 


Mother Carey's Chickens-Kate Douglas Wiggin

I have written about Mother Carey's influence on me in an earlier Storyformed article, and each time I read this book, I glean more and more insight into the joys and pains of motherhood. Mother Carey is caring for her four children under very difficult circumstances, and her wisdom, compassion, creativity, and understanding are inspirational to me as a mother. Her insight into the nature and needs of children is illuminating.  But it is her selflessness and her sacrifice that challenges me and makes me want to be a better mother myself. 


Cheaper By The Dozen- Frank Gilbreth, Jr. & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

Mrs Gilbreth is a highly unusual mother. In addition to having twelve children, she is raising those children with an eccentric efficiency-expert husband, and the vitality in their home reflects their originality. Although they often test their efficiency theories in the management of the home and children, her passionate love for each of her children and their individual well-being is evident in all that she does. I wrote a full review of the book here. 


Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingles Wilder

Most people are familiar with Laura's perspective in these tales of 19th Century pioneer life, but it was the mother, Caroline Ingles, who shined for me when I read these books as an adult a few years ago. In spite of the severity of the circumstances in which the Ingles family lives, Ma Ingles demonstrates unflinching bravery, resourcefulness, and wisdom, as well as devoted love for her family.


The Wingfeather Saga- Andrew Peterson

It was Nia Igiby's quiet strength that first inspired me as a mother, but as the series progressed and I learned more of her story, my admiration for her grew until she became one of my all-time favorite mothers in literature. Her fierce devotion to her children and their individual callings and roles in the world is demonstrated in her sacrificial love and noble bravery.  Her willingness to live a counter-cultural life in order to fulfill her children's purposes is encouraging to me as a mom who frequently feels as if I am swimming upstream for the sake of my own children's good.  But it is the dignity with which she watches her children step into those roles that strengthens me, as each day I watch my boys grow more and more into the men that they will one day become. 


Harry Potter Series- J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series contains one of my all-time favorite mothers in literature: Molly Weasley. Molly is mom to her own large brood of wizards and witches, to whom she is loyal, devoted, and sacrificially loving. But it is the loving kindness that she demonstrates to orphaned Harry that puts her near the top of the list of lit moms for me. Plus, she's a spitfire in her own right, which I absolutely love!



Understood Betsy- Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Although Aunt Abigail Putney isn't biologically "Mother" to Betsy, her assumption of that role in Betsy's life is transformative. Her no-nonsense expectation and belief that Betsy will rise to the occasion is inspiring, as is the wisdom in how she manages to allow Betsy to see her own abilities for herself. It is also a beautiful example that "motherhood" can be demonstrated to anyone, not just biological children. 


The Runaway Bunny- Margaret Wise Brown

Even the sweetest little board books can have some of the most memorable mothers. In Runaway Bunny, Mother Bunny remakes herself over and over to meet the needs of her precious little baby bunny. I love her and her willingness to adapt to the ever-changing needs of her baby. It is a simple picture of how, although our roles as mothers may always be in flux, love for our children is steadfast.  


Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen

As a bonus, I had to include a mother that I loathe, yet who still instructs me. Mrs Bennett is one of the mothers that we love to hate. She is self-absorbed, inconsiderate, rude, and foolish, and yet, she teaches--if only to demonstrate the kind of mother we do not want to emulate!