Last month at Wordstock I spoke to Doreen Cronin, author of the Click, Clack, Moo series and the Diary of a Worm and its sequels. Her books are delightful and chances are you (or your kid) have probably read several of them. Her latest book is a little bit of a departure because it’s not really a story (although it is still a picture book). It’s actually a manual — for moms. That is, it’s not a manual for moms to read, but a manual on the proper care and maintenance of mothers.
As Cronin shared in her interview, she was inspired initially by a list of safety tips on what to do if you encounter a bear. In a funny mood, she crossed out “bear” and replaced it with “mom,” and she and her agent had a good laugh. But then she was inspired to turn it into a little more than that: something that would teach kids how to make sure their moms are running in optimal fashion. And thus, M.O.M. (Mom Operating Manual) was born.
After speaking to Cronin, I went straight to the Powell’s booth and picked up a copy for my wife. It’s a terrific book, very witty and reminiscent of all the various manuals you probably have lying around the house. There are safety symbols indicating things that “could cause damage to your mother’s well-being and general enjoyment.” Laura Cornell’s illustrations are a riot and are a perfect fit for the book.
Being a manual rather than a story, there’s actually a lot more text than your typical picture book. At 54 pages, it’s quite a bit longer, too, and aside from the main text there’s often figures with labels, diagrams, and all the other important stuff you expect to find in a manual. One of my favorite pages is near the front, explaining the history of mothers. There’s a small drawing of a neat, happy, put-together mom with this caption:
In modern times, a well-maintained, well-rested mom will look something like this. This is an extremely rare model. You do not have one of these.
Cronin goes on to explain that your mother needs four essentials to function: Sleep, Nutrition, Exercise, and Water (“SNEW” for short). For instance, resistance training is good for healthy bones and good posture, but should not include “repeatedly dragging your fifty-pound body kicking and screaming to piano lessons.” The M.O.M. also describes how to recognize when your mom is malfunctioning, and what to do in the instance of minor malfunctions. (Of course, in the case of a major malfunction, “escape is the only option.”)
It’s a lot of fun to flip the child-mother relationship on its head, but as your children read this book they do learn something that’s actually useful and true: that mothers are not invulnerable and immune to the wear and tear they encounter on a daily basis. It’s important to take care of them — and furthermore, there are things that kids can do to help. As Cronin told a fan at Wordstock, when they’re little, they don’t really need to be worrying themselves about taking care of their moms, “but when you’re nine? You can step it up a little bit.”
If you need a nice gift for the mom in your life, get a copy of M.O.M. and tell her kids to study it carefully. Since reading it with our own kids, they’ve been more aware of when Mom needs a little extra SNEW and have actually been a bit better about giving her some space. (They haven’t, to my knowledge, had to resort to singing the “Cranky Pants” song yet.)
For a small taste of the sort of advice in the book, you can watch this little video.