Reading Memories: Authors on the Books Their Mothers Read to Them

Reading Memories: Authors on the Books Their Mothers Read to Them

For many of us, being read to is an extremely fond childhood memory. Maybe it’s even where some of us picked up our bookworm tendencies that have carried us into adulthood. In honor of Mother’s Day, we’ve asked authors to share with us their stories about being read to as children. Here, twelve authors dish on the books they remember their mothers reading to them.

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

“My mother read to me way past the time I learned to read. She had been a teacher and knew how to pace herself just right—not too fast, not too slow. I was obsessed with Bread and Jam for Frances and still have my tattered copy. I wasn’t a picky eater, so Frances’ decision to eat only bread and jam was fascinating and I loved hearing about what everyone else ate in the story. I made my mom read it often. I think this was a building block for why I like to write about food so much!” —Veera Hiranandani, author of The Night Diary

“My poor mother! Sometimes I would request she read me Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban three or times in a row on a daily basis. Oh, how I loved that little raccoon and her family! Even though there are several Frances books, my favorite was always Bread and Jam, even though it’s about Frances being a picky eater. Sure, I never liked fish, but I always ate whatever my parents put in front of me (unlike my younger sister), and I’ve always loved eggs (Frances can’t stand them—or so she thinks).” —Jen Calonita, author of Misfits

Why Was I Adopted? by Carole Livingston

“Growing up, I always knew that I was adopted and took great pride in it. I credit my mother and Carole Livingston’s children’s book, Why Was I Adopted? I still remember curling up on Mom’s lap with my twin sister, laughing at the drawings of chubby cartoon babies. This heartwarming story reminded me that l was different and that was okay. Over the years, Mom and I bonded over hundreds of books, from Hunger Games to Michael Connelly’s entire collection, always eager to discuss our favorites. This year marks the second Mother’s Day since my mother passed, but I’m so grateful to her for instilling in me a love of reading.” —Hollie Overton, author of The Walls

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

“When I called my mom to ask if she could answer this question, she laughed. She’ll be 90 this year, and I’m not far behind, so long-ago memories are a tad fuzzy. I do remember the three-book set she read from each night when my siblings and I were too young to read for ourselves: One was all nursery rhymes, one was fairy tales, and the third had excerpts from classics like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Heidi. Each book fed our budding imaginations and played a part in our becoming voracious lifelong readers. She also read us poetry: The Creation by James Weldon Johnson and Trees by Joyce Kilmer are two I remember well.” —Beverly Jenkins, author of Tempest

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

“My absolute favorite books to read with my mom as a child were: Madeline, Amelia Bedelia, and Pippi Longstocking. I loved hearing about young girls going against the grain, causing a raucous, making some mistakes, but often saving the day—each in their own unique way, always staying true to themselves. These books really influenced me as a person and as an author. Hearing it all come from my role model, my mother, could have only intensified the impact that these books had on my sense of self! I hope my books can have the same positive impact on young readers that these books had on me.” —Loryn Brantz, author of Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

“My mom read to me a lot when I was a kid. The Berenstain Bears, P.J. Funnybunny, and Imogene’s Antlers were staples in our house’s library. I went through quite a dinosaur phase at one point. I don’t remember specific dino books that she read me, but I do remember correcting her on how to pronounce pachycephalosaurus. I also have a very fond memory of my mom and grandmother taking turns reading Matilda by Roald Dahl all in one rainy day at our family cottage. I can’t pick up that book now without thinking about eating Cheez-Its on the old couch, sitting between my mom and grandma.” —Ryan T. Higgins, author of Mother Bruce

“How the Camel Got His Hump” by Rudyard Kipling

“I recall my mother reading the Rand McNally Elf version of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So story ‘How the Camel Got His Hump.’ I never tired of hearing that folktale. And my mother read it again and again. The story goes: When the world was new, man asked the animals for help. Other animals gladly pitched in, but the camel refused to work. Instead, the haughty camel replied ‘Humpf’ to each request. As punishment, the Djinn of all the Deserts cast a magical spell on the lazy camel, giving him a humped back. Today, I attribute my backbone and strong work ethic to the lazy camel and to my parents’ example.” —Carole Boston Weatherford, author of How Sweet the Sound

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Edgar Parin d’Aulaire and Ingri d’Aulaire

“A book I read with my mom was D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. It would spark one of the most profound conversations in my life, and I was only ten years old. Here I was, reading what initially appeared to be a book of fairy tales, but, my mom informed me that they used to be a religion. I had so many questions: What do you mean, used to be? Why’d people stop believing in it? Are all fairy tales old religions? It primed me for a lifetime of digging deeper, and I am forever grateful.” —Jason Porath, author of Tough Mothers

Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road by Meridel Le Sueur

“Happy Mother’s Day! My mother loved to read and when I was a kid, I was always begging her to read to me. No matter how busy she was, no matter how tired she was of reading my favorite book, Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road by Meridel Le Sueur, a lyrical, folksy story about Abraham Lincoln’s mother, she would sit down with me and read. Of course, my husband and I passed on the love of reading to our daughters. There’s a lovely quote from Emilie Buchwald, ‘Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.’ Thank you, Mama, for that lovely gift.” —Christina Dodd, author of Dead Girl Running

Ameliaranne and the Magic Ring by Eleanor Farjeon

“When I was young, my favorite book was Ameliaranne and the Magic Ring. I begged my mother to read it to me every night. The story was about a girl who wanted a doll in a toyshop window. She goes through many adventures—befriending strangers, negotiating with a man who deals in rags, fending off bullying girls, helping an old woman—until finally, the coveted doll ends up in her arms. I particularly remember the way my mother read aloud the singsong voices of the gossiping girls. The book now sits propped on my dresser. My mother passed away two years ago. Every day when I see the book I hear her voice.” —Lisa See, author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Come Away With Me by Karma Brown

“My mom and I read so many of the same books because she’s constantly raiding my library, usually reading them before I have time. With Come Away With Me by Karma Brown, for weeks she kept asking if I had finished it, but then wouldn’t say anything else about it. When I finally finished it, I called her immediately so we could discuss it. It’s a doozy of an ending.” —Amy E. Reichert, author of The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go

Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner

“As a young girl, my mother read to me every day and taught me the value of a good story. I credit her for my career as an author and for inspiring me to be a lifelong reader. One of my favorite books was Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner. We read it so much, we wore the cover off.

Robert is allergic to roses, but realizes he can work as a police horse. I loved the picture of Robert the horse directing traffic! Maybe this story is why I still love horses and flowers today. Thanks, Mom!” —Julie Cantrell, author of Perennials

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