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

A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A Chair For My Mother by Vera B. Williams
A Chair for My Mother
A Chair for My Mother

English Hardcover Edition

 

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 that has three sequels, Something Special For Me, Music, Music for Everyone, and A Chair For Always.

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 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 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 the fire, their actions of carrying on through the worst of it, and showing simple grattitude for their neighbor and family's help, shows them to be a family that is deeply and 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.

One 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 miraculously safe from the devastating effects of the fire, but they too lost everything. 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.

Something Special For Me
Something Special For Me
Music, Music for Everyone
Music, Music for Everyone
A Chair for Always
A Chair for Always

Sequels, or The Other Chair Books

  • Something Special For Me by Vera B. Williams. 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 is the next installment in the chair books. 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 was published over 20 years after the publication of the first Chair book. 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.

Related Books

  • 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. This storybook features appealing illustrations that cut away to each new page. Please read my full review of this story here.
  • Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White is about a little old woman named Rebecca Estelle who turns her hatred for pumpkins into a community feast. This is one of my favorite books about thrift and giving and is perfect for fall and harvest reading, or as part of a unit about communities. Please read my full review of this story here.
  • 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. Please read my full review of this story here.
  • The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah is another story about thrift and hard work that deserves a mention. This Jewish Passover-themed retelling of the Little Red Hen folk tale is amusing and instructive, and the heroine of the story is a mensch! Read my full review of this story here.

Vera B Williams Speaks About Her Mother and Her Writing

Themes

  • Saving Money
  • Mothers
  • Family
  • Overcoming Loss
  • Thrift
  • Resourcefulness
  • Family Love
  • Community
  • 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!

Lesson Plans Links for Teachers

More Children's Books

I invite you to read one of over 40 reviews of my favorite children's books:

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett · A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams · Babies by Gyo Fujikawa · Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin and Eric Carle · Charley Harper's ABCs by Charlie Harper · Christmas Cookies: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons · Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes · Daughter of a King by Rachel Ann Nunes · Excuse Me! By Lisa Kopelke · Gregory the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat · Harry and The Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gackenbach · Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson · I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll · I'd Choose You by John Trent · Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback · King of Kings by Susan Hill · Ladybug Girl by Jacky Davis and David Soman · Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes · Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney · Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney · Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle · No David! by David Shannon · Olivia by Ian Falconer · Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier · Snowballs by Lois Ehlert · So Much by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury · Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch · The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone · The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle · The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams · The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman · The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philemon Sturges · The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell · The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy · The Red Shoes a Fairy Tale by Gloria Fowler and Sun Young Yoo · The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats · Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel · Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White · Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak · Yoon and the Christmas Mitten by Helen Recorvits

More by this Author


17 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for this lovely review.


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

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


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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.


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Great review! Teachers will love this...


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

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


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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.


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

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.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

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


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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!


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

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.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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.


sherrylou57 profile image

sherrylou57 6 years ago from Riverside

Thank you for your inspirational hub.


sagebrush_mama profile image

sagebrush_mama 6 years ago from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound!

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


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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.


Tiffany C. Hill profile image

Tiffany C. Hill 6 years ago from kareeniebeanie.com

Nice Review!


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

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

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