Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating Mothers in Children's Literature: Coraline's Other Mother

Coraline, Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins, 2002

When Coraline, Neil Gaiman's eponymous heroine, finds a mysterious door in her apartment, she cannot help but go through it. On the other side, she discovers a sinister world that mirrors her own, complete with an "other" mother. The coolly, deliciously evil other mother has black buttons for eyes, snacks on beetles, and just might even try to keep your soul. She wants Coraline for her own, and Coraline proposes a game to win her freedom. But can she trust the other mother?
"I swear it," said the other mother. "I swear it on my own mother's grave." 
"Does she have a grave?" asked Coraline. 
"Oh yes," said the other mother. "I put her in there myself. And when I found her trying to crawl out, I put her back."
Eventually Coraline escapes back into her own world, taking with her the key that locks the door between them. The other mother magically detaches her long-nailed right hand and sends it -scrabbling!- into Coraline's world to retrieve the key.

What could be more scrumptiously creepy?

As a non bug-eating reasonably nice mother myself, I found Coraline's other mother to be absolutely delightful to read, and it got me thinking a bit about mothers in children's literature in general. In many children's books, of course, parents are completely absent. Coraline's own real parents - who are kind, but vaguely aloof to start with - do spend most of their time held captive in a snow-globe on the other mother's fireplace mantel. Although the other mother was not Coraline's real mother, I felt she was, in her own misguided way, a real literary mother, for if we mothers recognize the humor in her, dark though it may be, mustn't there also be some aspect of motherly truth in her character? Don't we as real parents in some ways also try to hold on to our children's moral (if not mortal) souls -albeit through love, not malice- sometimes by over-protecting, or even simply in our efforts to encourage certain values over others?

At any rate, there are some very interesting mothers in children's literature, and this week I have invited some fellow writer and blogger friends (some of them mothers themselves) to reflect on a few literary mothers that amuse, endear, or even give us shivers. We celebrate them all, and the gifts they give to us as readers. Enjoy the series, and wishing a Happy Mother's Day to all the real moms out there, who give us their gifts every day.

Upcoming Posts
Lisa Emig, Battle Hymn of the Badger Mother
(honoring Frances Badger's charming and wise mother)

Santosha Kuykendall, Mrs. Heffley Regrets... 
(reflections on Diary of a Wimpy Kid)

Shivanee Ramlochan (Novelniche, A Place for Books),
considering Mrs. Coulter from The Golden Compass


  1. I like Coraline's "other world" mother - I think we could definitely have shared a cup of coffee together.

  2. What a great idea. I look forward to reading these posts. I'm a new follower who found you on Blogging Books.

  3. Thanks so much - should be a very fun week. You have a great blog, following!

  4. I've had this on my bookshelf for forever. I really need to just pull it down and read it.

  5. Found it to be quite a fun, enjoyable (and quick) read. Love to hear what you think!

  6. I think what Gaiman does in this book is so clever. Coraline's "real" mother may not be the perfect mother either- she is preoccupied and doesn't give her the attention that Coraline thinks she wants. The "other" mother initially seems more the ideal- she wants to play with Coraline and give her food- but actually her over-involvement with Coraline is unhealthy, as it is all about her needs. He's a wonderful writer. I've loved these posts!

  7. Ali, what terrific insight, I think you are right! Thank you so much for all your thoughtful comments this week - it's been so much fun to hear everyone's reactions to the different mothers, authors & essays. (I'm following your wonderful blog as well, you have great recommendations!)

  8. Thank you! And thank you and your guest posters; I've really enjoyed this series.


Thanks for visiting - thoughts welcome.