Monday, August 9, 2010

In Our Mothers' House - Inclusive Literature

Polacco, Patricia. 2009. In our mothers’ house. New York, NY: Philomel Books. ISBN 978-0-399-25076-7

Plot Summary
The narrator of this story tells about life in her childhood home. Her home consisted of herself, a brother, a sister, and two mothers. As to be expected, there were people the family encountered who did not appreciate the different make up of this family. However, despite the disdain the family occasionally had to endure, the family was quite happy. The narrator tells of Halloween costumes, Christmas dinners, neighborhood block parties and a mother-daughter tea. The narrator and her siblings grow up and have families of their own but always look back on their lives in their mothers’ house with love and joy.

Critical Analysis
This is a beautiful book. The illustrations add color and details to the story. The story is about family and acceptance. Put it all together and you get exactly what we’d expect from Patricia Polacco. The characters of the book are quite diverse. The narrator lives in a neighborhood with families named McGuire, Goldstein, Brooks, Yamagaki and Abdulla. At the block party, these families bring foods like grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, sushi, fried clams, spanakopita and Greek salad. However, as diverse as the neighborhood seems to be, the family of the narrator seems to receive the most trouble because one family in the neighborhood refuses to associate with them in any way because there’s is a family with two mothers and no father.

The narrator describes her home as one where parents work, kids get sick, and grandparents come to visit. They listen to all different kinds of music and “speak their hearts” at dinner. The kids grow up happy and well-adjusted. Whether one agrees with the lifestyle portrayed or not, one can not deny that the desires and activities of this family aren’t that much different from the desires and activities of most of us.

Professional Reviews
From Linda Perkins (Booklist, May 1, 2009 (Vol. 105, No. 17))
The oldest of three adopted children recalls her childhood with mothers Marmee and Meema, as they raised their African American daughter, Asian American son, and Caucasian daughter in a lively, supportive neighborhood. Filled with recollections of family holidays, rituals, and special moments, each memory reveals loving insight. At a school mother-daughter tea, for instance, the mothers make their first ever appearance in dresses. The narrator recalls, “My heart still skips a beat when I think of the two of them trying so hard to please us.” Only a crabby neighbor keeps her children away from their family. Meema explains, “She’s afraid of what she cannot understand: she doesn’t understand us.” The energetic illustrations in pencil and marker, though perhaps not as well-rendered as in some previous works, teem with family activities and neighborhood festivity. Quieter moments radiate the love the mothers feel for their children and for each other. Similar in spirit to the author’s Chicken Sunday, this portrait of a loving family celebrates differences, too. Pair this with Arnold Adoff’s Black Is Brown Is Tan (2002), Toyomi Igus’ Two Mrs. Gibsons (1996), or Natasha Wing’s Jalapeno Bagels (1996) for portraits of family diversity. Grades 1-4

From Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature)
The family ‘in our mothers’ house’ is like many others, filled with love and fun, clearly seen in the smiling characters on the jacket. It is unusual only in that there are two mothers. The narrator is the eldest of three adopted children. She tells the story of her adoption and that of her brother Will and sister Millie. The children play, sing, and dance together, catch the flu, and celebrate holidays with the extended family. Only one neighbor seems to disapprove of the family at a big block party where all others are accepting. The children grow up, marry, have babies; their mothers die, but their hearts remain at the house where they found love. Polacco’s standard pencils and markers fill each double-page scene with active, naturalistic children and adults amid details of clothing, suburban environment, and household chaos. The illustrations make it apparent that the children are genetically different, ranging from African American and Asian American to Millie’s glowing red hair and pale skin. The genuine humane good feeling is only made richer by the contrasting nastiness of the neighbor. The lengthy text is a plea for the acceptance of one kind of the changing American family. 2009, Philomel Books/Penguin Young Readers Group, $17.99. Ages 6 to 9.

This book could be used for lessons in punctuating dialogue. It is also an example of using verbs other than “said” when writing dialogue. It could also be used in a unit studying various occupations as well as an example of “how-to” writing.

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