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Review: Is Mommy? by Victoria Chang

Is Mommy

Is Mommy?
By Victoria Chang
Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster)

ISBN: 9781481402927
$15.99
Grades PreK-1

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Rarely do I read something and think, “Wait. You can do that in a picture book?” But that was exactly my experience reading Is Mommy?, one of the boldest, bravest, and most straighforwardly honest picture books I’ve recently seen.

Is mommy what?

The title begs this response, doesn’t it?

Through a series of simple questions (posed by the narrator) and answers (by children), we begin to get a sense of what’s going on here:

9781481402927.IN01

Is Mommy 2

9781481402927.IN05

Is Mommy 4

The insults continue, leading to this line, so over the top one can’t help but laugh:

Do you love your short, ugly, mean, boring, old, messy mommy?

Followed by this natural reply:

Yes!

Don’t you?

Look, if I had someone following me around most of the day barking out commands and constantly correcting my errors, I’d be a little irritated too. I do believe I might want to lash out verbally on occasion. And kids do. Or if they don’t, they’ve fantasized about it. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t love behind those words too. While I think some adult readers will be taken aback by a book where moms are initially presented in a negative light, I think kids will have a different reaction – the feeling of vicarious glee that comes with crossing the line again and again.

Here Caldecott Honor winner Frazee is at her most artistically spare, using tempera paint on Manila paper. She creates a cast of child and mother characters, each one rendered in black brushstrokes and bright primary or secondary color. These illustrations, devoid of any background imagery serve the text well. The words carry a lot of weight, and Frazee is up to the challenge, smartly going big and bold.

Although it ends warmly, Is Mommy? contains enough “you can’t talk to me like that!” envelope-pushing to make grown-ups squirm. Somewhere, Maurice Sendak is smiling.

Review copy from the publisher.

This book had a long road to publication. This Publishers Weekly article tells the story behind the story.

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About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.

Comments

  1. I’m so glad you love this book, Travis. It definitely had me raising my eyebrows, then laughing out loud, then nodding my head in appreciation. It’s, as you say, quite Sendakian. Subversive and empowering and just brilliant.