Title: Are You My Mother?
Author: P.D. Eastman
Age Category: 3 to 5 years
Genre: Picture Books (Beginner Books / Easy Readers)
Well, I’m a bit late with this—Mother’s Day was last Sunday—but I couldn’t resist. This is one of my favorite Beginner Books / Easy Reader picture books. A classic. I still remember reading it with my mom when I was about four…
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: Summary
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman opens with a mother bird sitting on a big yellow egg in her nest. The egg starts to jump and shake, so the mother bird decides she had better go and find some food to feed her baby bird, who is about to arrive. Soon after she flies away, the egg hatches, and the baby bird asks, “Where is my mother?”
Since the baby bird can’t see his mother anywhere, he decides to go looking for her. He steps out of the nest, falls to the ground (can’t fly yet!), and sets off on an adventure to find his mother. He encounters a series of things—a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a steamboat, an airplane, and a large steam shovel that he calls a “snort” (because it snorts!)—and asks each in turn, “Are you my mother?”.
Finally, as the baby bird is puzzling over the snort, the huge machine picks up the baby bird, drives him to his tree, and sets him gently back in his nest. Moments later his mother arrives with a worm in her mouth and the two are happily reunited. The book ends with an image of the mother and baby birds snuggling in the nest.
Subjective Appeal: Comic Adventure
Several factors give Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman subjective appeal for young children. First, the book is just funny. Kids love how the egg jumps in the nest, and the image of the baby bird stepping out of the nest, confidently expecting to fly. Kids also crack up when the baby bird absurdly asks all the various animals and things if they are his mother: “‘How could I be your mother?’ said the cow. ‘I am a cow.’” (p. 33)
Second, the baby’s separation from his mother adds a certain tension that drives the story forward. Even as the baby bird does delightfully silly things like ask a cow if she is his mother, the reader is mildly anxious for the baby to find his mother, and thus the reader wants to find out what happens next. In other words, Are You My Mother? has a compelling little plot! The tension climaxes in the bird’s encounter with the snort: will this huge machine hurt our naive little bird? Of course, the story resolves in a delightful way as the snort turns out to be helpful and not harmful.
Finally, while the illustrations are not elaborate or deeply artistic, they are excellently done line drawings, and have the appeal of a cartoon for young readers.
Developmental Value: Learning to Read, Bonding with Mom
Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman is also developmentally valuable in several ways. First, as an “easy reader”, the picture book is ideal for a child learning to read. In fact, the book is part of the famous “Beginner Books” series started by Phyllis Cerf, and Helen and Theodor Geisel—Theodor is better known as Dr. Seuss. The first book in the series, of course, was Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (which we also heartily recommend).
Authors of Beginner Books, like P.D. Eastman, were required to use fewer than 400 words in their writing—words selected as important building blocks in a young reader’s vocabulary—thereby making the picture books both developmentally valuable and accessible for beginning readers. Incidentally, the use of humor in Beginner Books (clearly evident in Are You My Mother?) plays an important role in a child’s process of learning to read. As Zena Sutherland so aptly puts it, “the humor makes the serious business of decoding easier” (Children and Books (9th Edition), p. 87).
Finally, the picture book’s portrayal of a delightful warm connection between mother and baby bird gently affirms a young reader’s most valuable and primary relationship. One aspect of the baby bird’s connection to his mother that I found particularly sweet is the fact that he emerges from his egg assuming that he has a mother. His first words are, “where is my mother?” (p. 10), as if having a mother is simply a given. Even faced with his inability to find her, he is sure he has a mother (p. 37). And of course, the final image of the baby snuggling in the nest with mom is heart-warming.
In short, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman is a funny, compelling, and developmentally valuable picture book that I heartily recommend. I encourage you to find the book in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post, or in the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore.
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