I have loved to read for longer than I can remember. When I was younger and had more time (and less responsibilities), I would read three to five books a week. Now, as a parent, I manage three to five books a month.
Reading helps me understand my place in the world. Reading makes me realize how much I don’t know and how much I have left to learn.
I also love sharing this passion with my growing child. My four-year-old and I are aiming to read 1,000 books together by the time she is five. We chart our progress on Goodreads.com and we have nearly reached our goal!
In this month’s inaugural Raising Mothers books column, I share with you great books that I’ve been reading, as well as suggestions for the children in your care.
KNOW THE MOTHER by Desiree Cooper
Raising Mothers’ contributor, Deesha Philyaw, introduced me to Desiree Cooper and her debut collection of flash fiction, Know the Mother, in her interview at The Rumpus.
In thirty-three short-short stories, Cooper lays bare the thoughts and feelings mothers often keep to themselves: fear, desire, disappointment, and loss. So many different kinds of loss. It’s tempting to compare the book to a box of assorted, bitter chocolates, quick bites of lyrical, truth-telling about motherhood moments, so different from the typical “momoir” fare about minivans, playdates, boredom, and wine that was all the rage in the 2000s.
Each story, many no more than a few pages long, served as the perfect pre-bedtime read and I often re-read my favorites more than once, reflecting the intersections of domesticity, race, and class that Cooper explores.
JOY IS SO EXHAUSTING by Susan Holbrook
I recently taught “Nursery,” the final poem in this thin volume, about the action of mother nursing her daughter, from Joy is So Exhausting, Susan Holbrook’s second book of poetry:
Left: Still pitch before dawn and I dream a little, that you were born a gnome, and I loved you just as much, maybe more. Right: Dimples for knuckles. Left: Dark green eye keeps darting up at me, as if finally putting the face and the food together. Right: I wouldn’t write this poem in Texas.
Holbrook, a poet and fiction writer who North American literatures and creative writing at the University of Windsor, has written a risible volume that insists, over and over, that it is possible to be both mother and artist. She employs a variety of poetic constraints (see above, where each line spoken at alternating breasts while nursing) and the results are energetic and original.
GABI, A GIRL IN PIECES by Isabel Quintero
Freshly told in a diary format, Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is one of the best young adult novels I have read in some time. Mexican American Gabi’s deals with a lot during the course of this novel (her senior year): at school, her friends’ coming out and pregnancy; at home, her father’s meth addiction and her mother’s overprotectiveness. Gabi’s cultural conflicts with her family will feel authentic to any bilingual/bicultural child, and her voice, in Spanish and English and Spanglish in the way it is really spoken in many families just delights.
RAD AMERICAN WOMEN A-Z by Kate Schatz
Aside from being an excellent feminist primer that highlights lesser-know women of color and queer women in American history, including women who I admire (Angela Davis, Sonia Sotomayor) and women who I learned a bit more about (Wilma Mankiller, the Grimke sisters), this book also includes an afterword with 26 suggestions for how readers can be “rad,” and a “Resource Guide” with ideas for further learning and reading. Miriam Klein Stahl’s bold papercut illustrations really captivate my preschooler. (The book’s sequel— Rad Women Worldwide, which tells 40 stories of women all over the world—released in September.)
DREAM DRUM GIRL by Margarita Engle
My daughter voted for this book in our public library’s mock Caldecott activity in 2015. It is a gorgeous picture book Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers. Engle’s lyrical free verse (“Her hands seemed to fly/as they rippled/rapped/and pounded/all the rhythms/of her dream drums.”) has led to many, many readings of this book in our house.
What are you reading lately?
Pooja Makhijani is the editor of Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America, a collection of essays by women, and the author of Mama’s Saris, a picture book. Her bylines have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, WSJ.com and BuzzFeed among others. Pooja lives in Singapore with her partner, her daughter, an antique typewriter and many books.