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A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams Children's Book Review

Carolyn writes about children's literature for library, preschool, or homeschool settings. She has a BA in English Literature.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams is a book about goal-setting, saving money, and love for family.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams is a book about goal-setting, saving money, and love for family.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams is the story of a young girl named Rosa, her hard-working mother, and their grandmother. This children's picture book is a Caldecott Honor Book first published in 1982.

Author Vera B. Williams refers to these books as "the chair books", and all are inspired by her own life, growing up in Depression-era New York with a mother who held down multiple jobs and participated in causes like organizing credit unions and defying creditors. Understandably, the topic of economics and her family's relationship with money inspired her writing.

A Chair For My Mother Story Summary

In A Chair For My Mother, Rosa narrates the story of how she sometimes works with her mother at the diner and earns some extra money, which she saves in a huge jar along with her mother's earnings. They are saving for a big, beautiful easy chair, where her mother, a waitress, can rest her weary feet at the end of the day.

The family has very few possessions, because, as Rosa remembers in the story, everything they own was destroyed in a fire a year earlier. They came home one day from shopping for a new pair of shoes, and discovered their house ablaze. Everything they owned was turned to blackened charcoal. After the fire, the neighbors in Rosa's community banded together to give her family what they could: A small table with three chairs, a children's bed, and a teddy bear. But still their family has very little. Rosa's grandmother offers words of gratitude for her neighbors' generosity "You are the kindest people," she said, "and we thank you very, very much. It's lucky we're young and can start all over."

For a year Rosa and her family make do with their possessions until the money jar is completely full. Rosa, her mother, and even her grandmother save everything they can until their money jar is full. Then Rosa and her mother exchange their money at the bank for a stack of 10-dollar bills, and they take their savings shopping to buy a brand new, perfect chair. They choose a beautiful chair with flowers on it that is big enough for Rosa and her mother to share. The chair is used by everyone, including Rosa's grandmother, who sits at the window during the day.

Analysis: A Chair for My Mother is About Much More than a Chair

A Chair for My Mother is narrated from the viewpoint of a child, and the voice of the narrator is thus one of childlike simplicity. But I find Williams' story profoundly and deeply moving. This is a story of a family's relationships: though Rosa and her mother and grandmother have been economically devastated by a house fire, their actions of carrying on through the worst of it, and showing simple gratitude for their neighbors' and family's help, shows them to be a family that is emotionally wealthy.

This story is rich in humanity and heart, and Rosa's mother is a courageous example to her daughter. At the beginning of the story, where Rosa describes helping to work at the diner, she is matter-of-fact, but her pride resonates through her simple and straightforward words.

On one level, this book is the story of a family's efforts to save their money to buy a chair. Their thrift and resourcefulness is honorable and even praiseworthy. But the chair is a symbol of overcoming the traumatic hardship of a devastating fire that took away everything they owned.

And yet, the chair isn't really the point of the story, but the story of the family working together in love and unity to achieve their goal. It is easy to see why this book is a Caldecott Honor book.

This book especially resonates with me because when my father was four years old, his family home burned to the ground. His mother, father and sister were emerged safely from the devastating effects of the fire, but they too lost everything they owned. This story has a realism that doesn't smack you in the face. It is a simple, honest fact of life that people sometimes face devastating difficulties not of their own making, and yet, they survive and push on. This is realistic fiction at its best.

More Books about Rosa and Her Family

Something Special for Me by Vera B. Williams

Something Special for Me by Vera B. Williams

Something Special for Me

In this sequel to A Chair for My Mother Rosa's family save up to buy a treat, and decide to allow Rosa to purchase something for herself. The money jar makes its second appearance in this book about Rosa's family.

Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams

Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams

Music, Music for Everyone

This time, Rosa draws upon her musical talents and the talents of friends to raise money for her ailing grandmother. This book has a pleasing community message, is also about children and money, and anyone who loves accordion music will relish this book.

A Chair for Always by Vera B. Williams

A Chair for Always by Vera B. Williams

A Chair for Always

A Chair for Always by Vera B. Williams was published over 20 years after the A Chair for My Mother. This story looks with fondness at the now worn and dirty chair that was such a treasure when Rosa and her family first bought it. The book combines the story of the chair, symbolizing the family's past, with the birth of Aunt Ida and Uncle Sandy's new baby, combining the old and new in a sentimental and heartful way.

These book titles are related to A Chair for My Mother in a variety of ways. Some are about saving money, some are about overcoming hardship, and some are about thrift and using what you have in creative ways.

These book titles are related to A Chair for My Mother in a variety of ways. Some are about saving money, some are about overcoming hardship, and some are about thrift and using what you have in creative ways.

  • Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts is another book about generosity, hardship, and sacrifice. Everybody is wearing those shoes. But not Jeremy. His grandma explains that a new pair of those shoes is a want, not a need, and they can't afford them. When Jeremy and his grandmother find the perfect pair of those shoes at a thrift store, Jeremy buys them and takes them home. But they really don't fit. Now what will he do? This book talks about budgeting, wants versus needs, and when a bargain isn't really a bargain after all. (Something a few of us adults are still working on.)
  • Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback is the Caldecott award-winning story about a tailor named Joseph who reuses his worn overcoat in the ultimate story about repurposing clothing in thrifty and creative ways. This storybook features appealing illustrations that cut away to each new page.
  • In Money Plan by Monica Eaton, a young girl goes shopping with her mom and learns that their money has a plan. This is a book about budgeting and living within a budget.
  • Savannah's Savings Jar by Chelsea Addison is written for third grade and up, about a young girl who learns to manage money while starting her own business. This book was written by a school teacher in St. Louis to fit a need she saw in her own classroom.
  • The Penny Pot by Stuart J. Murphy and Lynne Cravath is a book about counting money. Jessie wants to get her face painted at the school fair, but she only has 39 cents, and she's short 11 cents! Will she be able to get enough money to get her face painted too? This is perfect for second graders who are learning about counting and adding money.
  • The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams is a story about overcoming hardships. King Zar has just lost his kingdom and is out of a job. He must seek the help of his six new friends who have magical powers to regain kingship and marry the beautiful princess.
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Vera B Williams Speaks About Her Mother and Her Writing

Themes

  • Overcoming loss
  • Saving money
  • Goal-setting
  • Family
  • Thrift
  • Resourcefulness
  • Love
  • Giving
  • Work


A Note for Teachers and Storytime Presenters

OK, I'll admit it. This story chokes me up. It is a long story as picture books go, so I recommend it for kindergarten ages and up. But I also strongly suggest that you practice reading this book once or twice through in case, like me, this book makes you blubber!

© 2010 Carolyn Augustine

Comments

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 27, 2010:

Thanks Tiffany, I see you are also an aspiring children's book author! Good luck getting your book published and welcome to HubPages!

Tiffany C. Hill from kareeniebeanie.com on July 27, 2010:

Nice Review!

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 22, 2010:

thanks sherrylou and sagebrush! I'm a sucker for this type of inspirational children's writing. It isn't meant to knock you over but still has a fantastic message. I hope you enjoy the book.

sagebrush_mama from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound! on July 22, 2010:

This sounds like a lovely story! I'll have to find a copy for the youngsters!

sherrylou57 from Riverside on July 22, 2010:

Thank you for your inspirational hub.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

Ah, Bayoulady, now I have to confess my ignorance. I haven't read any of the titles you just named. I can't wait to read your reviews of them. :)

I can relate to having differing tastes than my kids. It would be harder as a school teacher, because then your group could gang up on you! My young children seem to fixate on books that are of poor literary quality, and they demand I read them over and over. I AM going to have to read those stories.

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on July 21, 2010:

Wannabee,

Now you know I said your review was excellent, Don't forget that part!HA!

I can't really say why I didn't like the book, as we have had our new readers for 3 years, so memory fades. I just remember not enjoying the story.( SO not enjoying it.)

But then , I don't like Wednesday Surprise or Rosa and Blanca either, both total hits with my students.One I story I absolutely loved was Iris and Walter . You guessed it..it wasn't a hit with the kids.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

Oh, Dim, I didn't mean YOU!!! Silly :) I never thought you were loopy. Thank you again. You don't know what a boon HP is in my life!

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on July 21, 2010:

Hard to believe some don´t realise this book is about people, isn´t it? It shows so much of how strong and humane people can be when difficulties arise. If it was about a chair I don´t think it would have made me cry. I´m not THAT loopy!!!! take care. Love all your work x

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

Thanks, bayoulady, I hope you will come back and explain why you didn't like the book. I am interested in your differing viewpoint!!

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on July 21, 2010:

Hi Wannabe,

As usual a great book /series review. I always enjoy reading them.

We had this story in our second grade reader, and I didn't really like it. My students, however, loved it.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

Thanks dallas, I think it is a well-known book but lots of younger teachers may not have been exposed to it. Williams is 83 years old or older, just like my grandmother.

Dim, I hope you got to read the book, then! This book isn't really about a chair, it is about people. I am always surprised when people don't get that.

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on July 21, 2010:

Thank you so much for that. I have to admit it brought tears. Absolutely beautiful.

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on July 21, 2010:

Great review! Teachers will love this...

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

Thank you Hello, hello and Kaie. This is a fantastic book and I've been meaning to write this review for a while. It isn't for a preschool crowd, though my son who is four enjoyed reading it with me. This book offers multiple things for different ages of readers, and can fit into math, reading, social studies and economics units.

Kaie Arwen on July 21, 2010:

Ah, I love your reviews! They give me so many ideas, and a variety of recommendations for books at school. This sounds as if it is both touching and very in tune with the economic hardships many are facing today. Thanks ~ Kaie

Hello, hello, from London, UK on July 21, 2010:

Thank you for this lovely review.

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