25 Books of Revolutionary Mothering
In honour of International Women’s Day and the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, our theme this month is “Revolutionary Mothering”. It is the idea that mothering not only means taking care of one’s own children but it also means building community and ensuring survival for the future generation. It is this radical act of care-taking and supporting life that is fundamental to raising children who will become equity champions and builders of revolutionary communities of love, diversity, and inclusion. Here are 25 titles ranging from children's board books to Adult non-fiction on mothering, being revolutionary, and on revolutionary mothering that you can add to your library today.
We are looking at mothering as an investment in the future that requires a person to change the status quo of their own lives, of their community and of the society as a whole again and again and again in the practice of affirming growing, unpredictable people who deserve a world that is better than what we can even imagine. ... And many people do the labor of mothering who would never even dream of identifying as mothers, even though they do the daily intergenerational care work of making a hostile world an affirming space for another person who is growing mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. -Alexis Pauline Gumbs, "Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the front lines"
MAR Recommends: 25 Books of Revolutionary Mothering
This month, MAR explores the theme of “revolutionary mothering”. But what does it mean to be revolutionary? To me, it means dreaming big, having goals, and getting stuff done. It’s persistence, ambition, and a lot of drive. It involves tirelessly standing up for what you believe in, and fighting for real change that benefits the greater good and betters the world we live in. It’s being passionate, unapologetic, and maybe more than a little bit loud. It’s learning to feel comfortable making others uncomfortable while often questioning everything, going against the grain, and challenging the status quo. It’s qualities that are less acceptable for women to possess while traditionally praised in men. And although that seems to be gradually changing, it is much more socially acceptable for white women to possess “revolutionary” qualities than it is for women of colour. There’s definitely still a double standard here, and whether these revolutionary traits are viewed as positive or negative depends on who is displaying them as well as who the spectators and observers are.
When I think of what it means to be revolutionary in terms of mothering, in my (admittedly slightly biased) opinion, I’d argue that this is exactly everything that MAR strives to be. We are starting small revolutions in our own homes and families, “doing the work, starting at home” and fighting for change in our communities. We’re having uncomfortable conversations, amplifying the voices that need to be heard, and asking important questions, all while raising the next generation to feel encouraged and empowered to do the same.
For this month’s booklist, I took these ideas of what it means to be a revolutionary, and combined them with positive portrayals of mothering in a variety of different forms. The baby and toddler as well as picture book lists lean more heavily towards a focus on mother-child relationships, while the lists for older readers also include stories of characters who exemplify revolutionary ideals. With the exception of the list for adult readers which is entirely nonfiction this month, the lists contain a blend of fiction and nonfiction, allowing young readers to see both real-life as well as fictional examples of strong personalities that follow their dreams, persevere through challenges and adversity, advocate for change, and fight for what they believe in. I hope you’ll find stories that set examples for the young people in your life, and I hope they (and you!) will feel inspired to start your own revolutions as you continue on in this important journey.
When I Carried You in My Belly by Thrity Umrigar
“Thrity Umrigar's lyrical and playful text are well complemented by Ziyue Chen's soft and delightful illustrations, and together they create a sentimental and insightful book about the special bond between parents and children. ” - Goodreads
Think Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison
“This board book edition of Little Dreamers: Visionary Women Around the World by New York Times bestselling author Vashti Harrison is a beautiful first book to teach your little dreamers to follow all their biggest ideas! Featuring eighteen women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to scientists, this board book adaptation of Little Dreamers introduces trailblazing women like Mary Blair, an American modernist painter who had a major influence on how color was used in early animated films, environmental activist Wangari Maathai, and architect Zaha Hadid.” - A Mighty Girl
Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse
“A vibrant, playful verse that celebrates a beautiful brown baby’s sweet little knees, for fans of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Snuggle with a child on your lap with this companion title to the popular board book Whose Toes Are Those?. With lush, adorable pictures from New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham, reminiscent of the beloved work of Ezra Jack Keats, this interactive rhyme full of toddler appeal is a perfect baby gift for parent-child playtime.” - Hachette Book Group
My Mommy Medicine by Edwidge Danticat
“My Mommy Medicine is a picture book about the comfort and love a mama offers when her child isn't feeling well, from renowned author Edwidge Danticat. [...] Danticat's rich and lyrical text envelops the reader in the security of a mother's love, and debut artist Shannon Wright's vibrant art infuses the story with even more warmth.” - Goodreads
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
“This bestselling ABC book is written and illustrated for the next generation of progressives: families who want their kids to grow up in a space that is unapologetic about activism, environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and everything else that activists believe in and fight for.” - Penguin Random House
Your Name is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
“Distraught that her classmates don’t pronounce her name correctly, a Black girl in goldenrod overalls complains to her Ummi, who wears a coral-colored headscarf, on the walk home. Describing the musicality of names, Momma encourages her daughter to “tell your teacher that your name is a song,” and expounds on others: “Take the name, Olumide (O-loo-muh-DAY)./ Olumide is a melody, girl! And so is Kotone (KOH-tow-neh).” With a creative answer for each of the child’s hesitations (“Made-up names come from dreamers.... They make a way out of no way, make names out of no names—pull them from the sky!”), Momma imparts wisdom that her daughter shares the next day, teaching her name’s correct pronunciation by singing it, and classmates’ names, during roll call.” - Publishers Weekly
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
“The fact of the matter is that Dreamers is the best kind of picture book because it makes you want to think and discuss and think some more and get opinions from other people, and still think. It opens up discussions, not just about the ideas I’ve listed here, but about immigration, loneliness, the Dreamers and undocumented. Yuyi Morales writes in the back of this book, “All of us have stories. Each of them is different.” And then at the end, “Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?” I think the better parts of our lives are spent in trying to figure out what we want to dream at all. Books like this one help. They help kids. They help parents. They help everyone. A clear-cut example of the rarest kind of best we hope for when we read a book to our children. You couldn’t ask for better.” - Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal
Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan
“An homage to all the African American women who are mothering children not biologically their own. Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose because “Mommy and Daddy live miles away.” She offers no explanation for why she doesn’t live with her parents, but this reflects reality since children don’t always know or understand why that might be the case. Though she misses her mother and father, Carol doesn’t focus on what she lacks but instead emphasizes the richness of her life with Mama Rose, who does things ‘just like a Mama.’” - The Horn Book Review
Rise Up and Write it by Nandini Ahuja
“This cheerfully illustrated picture book is the perfect beginner text for young activists, providing examples of kid-friendly actions, including writing letters to politicians, testifying at public meetings, and organizing rallies. The book contains cleverly designed pages shaped like envelopes that contain removable samples of letters, petitions, and protest signs that kids can use as templates for their own community-based action. The book’s language is both clear and empowering—never preachy—and the plot moves quickly.” - Kirkus Reviews
Lullaby (for a Black Mother) written by Langston Hughes; illus. Sean Qualls
“With a few simple words as smooth as a song, the poet Langston Hughes celebrates the love between an African American mother and her baby. The award-winning illustrator Sean Qualls’s painted and collaged artwork captures universally powerful maternal moments with tenderness and whimsy. In the end, readers will find a rare photo of baby Hughes and his mother, a biographical note, further reading, and the complete lullaby. Like little love-ones, this beautiful book is a treasure.” - Goodreads
Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
“A suspenseful, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting story that shines a bright light on indentured servitude and the role of education in empowering girls. While simply told, Amal Unbound has enough unexpected twists and turns -- Amal lives in luxurious surroundings at the Khan estate and is treated kindly by the family matriarch rather than in the terrible conditions readers might expect -- that even older kids will be captivated by the story.” - Common Sense Media
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
“To pick up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is to pick up the world’s best example of precisely how to write a fictionalized memoir. Sharp when it needs to be sharp, funny when it needs to be funny, and a book that can relate to so many other works of children’s literature, Woodson takes her own life and lays it out in such a way that child readers will both relate to it and interpret it through the lens of history itself. It may be history, but this is one character that will give kids the understanding that nothing in life is a given. Sometimes, as hokey as it sounds, it really does come down to your dreams.” - Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal
Take Back the Block by Chrystal D Giles
“Exploring community, gentrification, justice, and friendship, Take Back the Block introduces an irresistible 6th grader and asks what it means to belong–to a place and a movement–and to fight for what you believe in.” - Penguin Random House
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
“This inspiring celebration of African American heroes and regular folk uses spare poetry and bold art to remind or teach kids about black achievement and struggle. The message of The Undefeated is in its structure, as each stanza begins with "This is for ... " This structure lets the poet acknowledge the folks who came before, who struggled to survive and make their mark on America. "This is for the unlimited,/ unstoppable ones./ The dreamers and doers ..." It's very effective and beautifully amplified by Kadir Nelson's amazing art.” - Common Sense Media
We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
“An anthology of poetry, essays, short stories and art designed to lift children up, especially children from traditionally marginalized communities, during difficult times. This collection encourages America’s children to remember their history, learn from it, and choose to be kind in the face of hatred, racism, and oppression[...] A love song from children’s literature’s brightest stars to America’s Indigenous children and children of color, encouraging them to be brave and kind.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Trevor Noah's adapted memoir is the best kind of kids' nonfiction: His misadventures are highly relatable and engaging, even when things go horribly wrong. Readers will come away with deeper knowledge about what Apartheid was, and the social ramifications of racism, sexism, and poverty. It's Trevor Noah: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood entertains while it teaches readers essential historical lessons, leading them to consider social issues thoughtfully.” - Common Sense Media