Simon Says: The Mother-Son Bond in Children’s Books

What is it about the love between a mother and her son? Any parental bond with their child regardless of gender is special in its own way- I can certainly speak from experience as a “daddy’s girl” and as a daughter who is close with her mother. However, now in the parental role myself,  I am cognizant of having entered a particular sisterhood as the mother of a son.

There is much misunderstanding in our culture about the mother-son bond, not the least of which being the widespread use (and misuse) of Freud’s term “Oedipus complex”, from Greek mythology’s tragic Oedipus who accidentally married his mother. My theory about this is that outsiders can only understand intense love within a sexual context and so when they observe a strongly bonded son misappropriate this term to describe him. Similarly, the label “mama’s boy” is used as a demeaning epithet. Despite the misperceptions, research shows that a strong bond between mother and son is a good thing (
Regardless, there are many wonderful picture books featuring mother-son love, for all kids and parents to enjoy.  Here is just a sample:

Run Away Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd: This timeless classic was first published in 1942 and is a staple in any children’s library. In case you might have forgotten, this is the one about the bunny who keeps asking what would happen if he ran away from his mama, who always had an answer for him: that there was no escaping her and her love for him. The feelings conveyed in the story and pictures are so universal, the fact that it is a mother and a son can easily be forgotten, but many stories that are about mothers and sons can be seen as a variant of this original book.

From “I love You Stinky Face”, illustration by Cyd Moore

I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and Cyd Moore: In this more recent book, the son challenges his mother not with running away, but rather with turning into terrible creatures: “but Mama, what if I become a stinky, smelly skunk?”, and like the bunny’s mom, there are wonderful and tenacious answers to assure the son that she is not going anywhere, no matter how gross or strange he becomes. Unlike Runaway Bunny, though, this may resonate even stronger for mothers and sons because of the latter’s ability to actually become gross and scary.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw: To me, this is “I Love You, Stinky Face” told from the parent’s perspective. In it, you watch the destructive toddler become the messy kid become the loud and crazy-making teenager, but always with the refrain from the mother, “I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” SPOILER ALERT- At the end, if you aren’t in tears already, the tables turn and it is the son rocking the mother in his arms.

No David, by David Shannon: This is the first of several wonderful books in this genre by David Shannon, that features David being told not to pick his nose, make a mess, eat with his mouth open, etc. but like Mars Needs Moms, ends with a big mother-son embrace and declaration of unconditional love. Kids will love the illustrations of the gross behavior that are reminiscent of kids’ scribbles.

Mars Needs Moms, by Berkeley Breathed: Before it was a movie, it was a wonderfully illustrated children’s book by former cartoonist who brought us Opus and Bill the Cat. This story flips the genre a bit on its head by beginning with misunderstanding and resentment by the son of the mother, “a broccoli bully”, but ends with a celebration of his love for her and understanding that she loves him. It’s written by a father, and reflects the parental fantasy that children will appreciate everything we do for them someday.

Final pages of "Mars Needs Moms"
Final pages of “Mars Needs Moms”


As comedienne  Kira Soltanovich sang at a recent show she calls “The Pump and Dump” (in reference to what breastfeeding mothers are told to do if they drink alcohol),

“You’re never gonna love another woman like you love me…”

I laughed so hard I cried… because I understood. I can already imagine the jealousy I might feel for a future girlfriend or wife. The poor woman is going to have to contend with not one but two mothers-in-law, God help her.

In the meantime, I’ll continue enjoying reading these books with our son and getting all the snuggling in I can while we’re still the most important women in his life.

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1 comment

Love these tender and perceptive reviews. Thank you Anna! And well I remember most of these books from my young motherhood days.

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