Where are the Good Mothers in Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy?

In honor of Mother's Day, I've been thinking about mothers in middle grade sci fi and fantasy. How many mothers are there in mg sff who are not a. dead b. evil c. virtually non-existent by virtue of being depressed/insane/preoccupied with their own lives? From the fairy tales of the nineteenth-century on to the present, there have been so many, many orphans. So many, many, children of absent and evil mothers. And even when a mother might be "good" (which is to say, involved and caring), often she is an impediment (actual or emotional) to the magical journey of the child protagonist (as in The Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth).

I just went through all 156 posts I've written about middle grade books (most of which are fantasy), and found only one really nice mother (in The House on Mayferry Street, by Eileen Dunlop, from the 1970s). Moving beyond the books I've written about, I could only think of one contemporary series where there is someone who meets my criteria for a "good mother" -- Sarah Heap, in the Septimus Heap series. She genuinely cares about all her children, she's there for them, and she's not evil or dead. Casting my mind further back in time, I rather like the mother of Will Stanton in The Dark is Rising, a book in which the hominess of Will's home makes the magic stand out ever so clearly. And that's about all that's coming to mind.

It's not at all surprising that there are so few good mothers in this genre, and, in fact, I thought of sub-titleing this post "should there be Good Mothers in sci fi fantasy?" I think that one of the reasons kids read these books is to escape their own lives, to explore and try on other personas. Fantasy offers metaphors that can be brought home--ways of re-casting issues from the real world. And so one does not necessarily want the Good Mother casting her shadow of stifling love over the realm of the imagination. (For Good Mother as Nightmare, Neil Gaiman's Coraline is the obvious choice, although The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, is a close second).

As I was going through the mg sff books I've reviewed, I ticked them off in my mind--dead, dead, absent, dead, evil, dead, dead, dead. There are a huge number of dead mothers (fathers, not so much). It's rather sad that so many authors are killing the mothers--as a mother myself, I don't want to be cut out of my sons' journey toward growing up (and I want to stay alive, thanks very much). I don't want to be cast an impediment that will hold them back. And I think this is one of the reasons I am very fond of the Septimus Heap books is that Angie Sage makes Sarah a loving mother, without, in any way, impinging on the magical experiences her stories offer either the characters or the readers.

If I am missing any obvious (or even not so obvious) good mothers, let me know!

(for those who want to read more about parents, this time in contemporary YA literature, here's a NY Times article from April entitled The Parent Problem in YA Literature, and here's Liz's response at A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy).


  1. I always thought the Weasley's were good parents, and that Mrs. Weasley really cared about her children and Harry in a motherly fashion.


  2. True--Mrs. Weasley is a good mother. But what are Hermione's parents thinking????

  3. ...well, they're only Muggles, after all. They don't think.

    A good mother -- goodish, anyway, was Percy Jackson's Mom, in THE LIGHTNING THIEF. It wasn't her fault that she got caught up in crap, but she stayed with an absolutely foul and evil man, to protect her child... she was passive, in order to be strong. The characterization made me sad, but it was oh, so very true to life.

    In DUNE, the Bene Jesserit chick, Jessica, was a good mother to Alia and Paul Atreidies... of course, she was manipulated and the whole thing was deeply political, but she loved her children.

    This is such a good question!!

  4. I hope you all saw Catherine Gilbert Murdock's essay in the Horn Book magazine, March/April 2009 edition, "The Adventures of Mommy Buzzkill"--she basically explained that if Mom were around in more of these books, she would NEVER let the kids run off and have such dangerous adventures! (Whereas fathers are expected to be clueless, or at least away at work and therefore benignly negligent, apparently. Not a big compliment to them, either!)

    Still trying to think of more examples of good mothers in sci-fi/fantasy...

  5. Spoiler ahead:

    Nita and Dairene's mom, as well as Kit's in So you Want to Be a Wizard and sequels. Nita's mother eventually dies but she's around for the first few books and her influence is felt throughout the series.


  6. I would suggest to you that my books, Magician of Oz and the soon-to-be-released Shadow Demon of Oz are the exception to your rule about mothers not being positive characters. I wrote my books with the goal that both the mother and father figures; Amanda & James Diggs, would serve as very positive roles models and both play a major part in the storyline of my series. In fact, the third and final volume of my Royal Magician of Oz series is called Family of Oz and specifically focuses on the influences of both Mother Diggs, Father Diggs and the new relationship developing between Buddy (Jamie Diggs' best friend) and... but wait! I'm giving away too much. You'll just have to wait... and read.

  7. I'm not sure it's just a MG SFF issue; in the two years I've been doing MG books for the Cybils, I can count on one hand the number of "good" moms. I think your point about kids wanting to escape their lives is a good one, and to think of it from an author's perspective: a good mother kind of gets in the way of the kids' ability to propel the plot. But, it is kind of tiresome (as a mother) to be so... marginalized.


    And I agree: Mrs. Stanton, Percy's mom, and Mrs. Weasley are all really good moms that don't compromise the story.

  8. Kat's mom in the Suddenly Supernatural series by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel is a very positive figure, although those deal with ghosts and psychic stuff, not so much straight fantasy...Kel's mother in Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small is a good character and a powerful figure in her daughter's life, although she's mostly far away. The only parents I can think of who are successfully present while their children indulge in wild and fantastical adventures are the Armitage family in Joan Aiken's short stories.

  9. A Wrinkle in Time ... you, know, Mrs Whatshername, Meg's mother....


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