I read a lot of children’s books. I’ve read about good parents and bad parents, and some who are beautifully nuanced. I’ve never — especially not in a picture book where each word matters — read a parent who is this emotional.
And it’s not a bad thing. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s Saturday by Oge Mora.
Let’s start with the verbs applied to the unnamed mother as her Saturday plans with her daughter, Ava, go awry. This grownup woman wailed, boo-hooed, yelled, and crumpled.
In most picture books the mother would react to a disappointing situation with a verb that shows more emotional fortitude, like regretted or said with a frown. Not this mom.
And yet, she spends most of the day reassuring her daughter. Three times she reassures her that somehow it will be all right. But the fourth time the word reassured appears, it is Ava who reassures her mother.
That’s because her mother has a bit of a breakdown.
I’ve had it!” She sighed. “Storytime was canceled, our hair was ruined, the park was loud, and now we’re missing the puppet show. I’m sorry, Ava. We looked forward to this all week, and I’ve messed up everything….I ruined Saturday.”
Oh, how I identified with the pain of that one-syllable word: ruined. It appears twice. First, when they almost miss the bus — “Today will be ruined if we miss that bus!!!” (yes, that’s the mother again, with those three exclamation marks). And again, when the mother is afraid she ruined not only this Saturday but the Saturday-ness that makes that day special for her and her daughter.
Too often story mothers — and real mothers — put expectations on themselves to set impossible emotional examples for their children. But real mothers have feelings too. Real mothers wail, boo-hoo, yell, and even crumple.
This mother is a good mother. She works six days a week and on Saturday, her one day off, all she wants to do is share a “special” and a “splendid” day with her daughter. The text tells us, “Saturday was the day they cherished.”
This daughter knows she is loved. She hugs her mother and says, “Saturdays are wonderful…because I spend them with you.”
Oge Mora is a Caldecott Honor-winner for her debut picture book, Thank you, Omu! This book, Saturday, appeared on several best book lists for 2019. Mora grew up in Ohio and earned a degree in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her painted illustrations also include collages from old books. They adds a literary touch, showing us that this is a family who reads. Mora dedicated this book to her mother “and to all of the spectacular adventures we’ve shared.”
At the end of the story, mother and daughter have the same idea for how to redeem their day. The last illustration shows them on the floor, with a glorious mess of craft supplies, making their own fun.
Hooray for mothers like this one, not afraid to feel all the feels. Because sometimes we parents do ruin things. But we get up every Saturday with a smile, and we try again.
I’ve got a wonderful, awful idea! For the next Children’s Book Club. let’s read the 1957 classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss. Join us on Friday, December 11.
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—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist