Book Article

My Mother, My Coauthor

Countless books have been born from mother-daughter partnerships, including those from Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter to Anne Tyler and her illustrator daughter

Some children's books are about mother-child relationships no matter what their subjects: Over the years, mother-daughter partnerships have given birth to dozens of works for kids. The genre's latest offspring, due out this September from Orchard Books, is Tumble Tower, a picture book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Anne Tyler and illustrated by Mitra Modarressi, her 25-year-old daughter.

A recent art-school graduate, Modarressi calls their work together ''the best possible first experience doing a children's book I could possibly have had.'' Unlike more traditional children's-book collaborations, in which pictures are drawn to illustrate an existing story, ''it kind of worked out backwards for us,'' Modarressi recalls. ''My mother looked at my artwork and wrote a story for it. She knew better than anyone what kind of story would be good for my artwork.'' Why? ''Because she's my mother.''

That intuitive sharing of vision has also helped enrich the work of many other mother-daughter children's-book teams: Caldecott Honor Book artist Vera B. Williams and her daughter, the author Jennifer Williams; illustrator Lillian Hoban and her writer daughter, Julia Hoban; Florence Parry Heide and her brood of coworkers, Judith Heide Gilliland and Roxanne Heide Pierce. Looking back, one of the most moving associations was that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the much-loved series of Little House books, with her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose not only encouraged her mother, who was already in her 60s, to write down the story of her childhood, she also typed and edited Laura's handwritten manuscripts. As Wilder's biographer William Anderson says, ''Separately they couldn't have done a lot of the things they accomplished together.'' Now there's a Mother's Day sentiment worthy of Hallmark.

Originally posted May 07, 1993 Published in issue #169 May 07, 1993 Order article reprints