Josna Rege

349. A Chair for My Mother

In 1980s, 2010s, Books, Inter/Transnational, parenting, reading, Stories, United States, women & gender, Work on November 7, 2015 at 10:58 am

A-chair-for-my-mother

BK100160AWhen Nikhil and Eric were young, one of our favorite picture books for them was Vera B. Williams’ A Chair for My Mother (1982). It became a Scholastic title as well as a Reading Rainbow book (remember LeVar Burton of PBS’s Reading Rainbow?), and Maureen, who taught kindergarten, must have brought it home as she did all the new and classic Scholastic books she would order to preview for her students. I don’t know who loved it more, the boys or us. We also read and enjoyed Vera Williams’ Cherries and Cherry Pits (1986), which, like all her books, she both wrote and illustrated in her distinctively bold, colorful style. A Chair for My Mother, though, was far and away my favorite.

I won’t spoil it for you by summarizing the plot; do pick up a copy and read it to the children in your life. Just know that its characters are a little girl, her mother, her grandmother, and, of course, the eponymous chair. They don’t have much in the way of possessions; the mother works hard for their living; and the love and warmth of its spare text and lavish illustrations continue to light up American children’s literature through the generations.

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When I heard of Vera Williams’ death last month, I felt a pang and a deep sadness. I read in her obituary that after her divorce she moved from New York to a houseboat in Vancouver, British Columbia, where, in her late 40s, she began to write and illustrate children’s books. What constitutes the sense of home is personal and elusive, but A Chair for My Mother captures what’s essential. That stage of my life is long gone, but the chair and all that it stands for, sits squarely in my heart, inviting me to come home.

Chair-for-my-mother-chair

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. I love that book too!

    • There are certain books that become part of us, and part of our shared heritage, reaffirming our values, and becoming a means of passing them on. And they are beautiful too, that is important. Some books I remember for the words, but this one I remember for the pictures, especially the three reproduced here.

  2. That was a favorite of ours as well! However, in this age of Kindles, I am afraid my grandchildren are being gypped of the delights of so many wonderful paper books.
    This is when I feel most keenly the terrible distance between us, they in Washington and me in S. California, with all those beautiful books which their mother grew up with.

    • Do you send your grandchildren books, Marianne, and read them to your them on your visits? I bet you do. Some of our most beloved childhood books were sent to me by distant friends and family. But I know what you mean. Reading to our children (and to their friends during sleepovers) was one of the joys of parenting, something I know I enjoyed as much as N. did—perhaps in some cases, even more. Perhaps its inevitable our grandchildren will never have quite the same emotional relationship to paper books as we do; but then again, perhaps not. Besides home, there’s school and the public library. Surely reading at school isn’t all done on electronic devices!

      By the way, through Nikhil’s Roma documentary project, I learned that “to gyp” is a derogatory term that comes from the stereotype of “gypsies” (Romani people) as thieves.

      I’m thinking that perhaps I ought to volunteer to read during Children’s Hours at the library or at the nearby Eric Carle picturebook museum. Here’s to books! And to you. x J

  3. Levar Burton has died?

    • SO sorry–I was completely wrong (thank goodness)! I will correct it as soon as I get home. Can’t think how I came to that conclusion. Thank you for the heads-up.

      • Hey, I’m just glad it wasn’t true since I’m a very lonooongtime Star Trek fan and Lt. Giordi Laforge is a major player. Not to mention his years with Reading Rainbow [my kids were big fans and they are now 25 and 27 years old]. And of course as Kunta Kinte in “Roots,” which was his major debut.

  4. I was relieved, too, and so glad that he is still working for and with children, promoting the importance of storytelling in the classroom. (He must have been so young when he played Kunta Kinte–that seems an age ago now.)

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