Marvelous Matriarchs in Middle Grade

By: Shanleigh Klassen

Mother's Day is Sunday, May 8th, and we’ll be spending it honoring the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and caregivers who’ve provided us with love and guidance throughout our lives.

What better tribute can we give than by highlighting some of the incredible maternal figures from our favorite middle grade stories? Take a look below for just a few of the prominent mothers, grandmothers, and caregivers that make up the middle grade world, and let us know who your favorite literary matriatchs are in the comments below!

Sally Jackson — The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Book cover for Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. A gold trident aligns with the teal-coloured Empire State building in the background amidst clouds. On either side of the trident are a silver lightning bolt and a silver helmet.

Mother to a demi-god, Sally has had to put up with a lot in order to ensure Percy’s safety but she never lost her sense of kindness. Compassionate and loving though she is, Sally can also be quite ruthless to those that harm her or those she loves. Though surrounded by beings with extreme power, Sally has always believed in taking control of her own life. Sally is a powerhouse of a character that appears in the Percy Jackson series, the Heroes of Olympus series, and most recently, the Trials of Apollo series.


Suraya’s Mother — The Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf
Book cover for the Girl and the Ghost by Hanna Alkaf. A young child in a red sweater and blue skirt and holding a book sits in a crouched position in the bottom right corner as a large, towering dark spirit rises up behind them. Right next to the child is a small green cricket perched on a tall piece of grass.

This spooky and heartfelt story (featured in the September 2020 OwlCrate Jr box) gives us a mother and child relationship that’s complicated, yet loving. When Suraya starts to experience the malevolent side of the pelesit (a Malay ghost-familiar) she’s befriended, her mother believes her. Through some mishaps, Suraya and her mother are brought together, closer than before, as they embrace the complexities of their family’s past.


Ma — Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliot
Book cover for Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliot. A young Black child wearing a white and red baseball tee and blue jeans sits in a relaxed pose with a small dragon popping out of a flowered bag beside them. Wrapped around the child's right foot is another magical-type creature.

Though not Jaxon’s actual grandmother, Ma’s sudden presence in Jaxon’s life steers him towards adventure and greatness. Though Ma is initially displeased at being saddled with Jaxon, it’s quickly revealed there’s more to Ma than her prickly demeanor would imply. An absolute force to be reckoned with, Ma is exactly the kind of person you’d want in your corner when the chips are down.


Sila’s Mom and Mateo’s Mom — The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Book cover for The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan. The silhouettes of a young child embracing and the trunk of an elephant, a pink to orange gradient in the background.

Mothers are at the very heart of The Elephant in the Room, an OwlCrate Jr pick from March 2021. Though Sila’s mother is stuck in Turkey awaiting her immigration paperwork, we’re offered glimpses into this powerful woman’s life as she stands up for her herself and her fellow colleagues. Mateo’s mother, Rosa, meanwhile, is as supportive and comforting as they come with a kind word on hand at any moment. We’re offered a breadth of motherhood in this story where familial ties are tested and fortified under the tensest of circumstances.


Abuela Sonia — The Insiders by Mark Oshiro
Book cover for The Insiders by Mark Oshiro. A v-shaped image shows three multi-racial children slinking about a school hallway, with various coloured lockers in the background. The main background image is in bright yellow.

Héctor’s Abuela Sonia is exactly the kind of grandmother we all deserve: she’s loving, supportive, and pushes her grandson to be the best person he can be. She’s always there to lend a helping hand or a comforting shoulder, and always has a kind word to share. And bonus: she makes the best horchata around!


Dr. Kate Murry — A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Book cover for A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A sepia-toned border frames the dark title area, showing various figures and items from the story.

Mother to the four infamous Murry children, Kate is a brilliant microbiologist with two doctorates and is even described as having won a Noble Prize in the later books of the Time Quintet. Kate is the very glue that holds the Murry family together and holds tight control over her feelings but as Meg observes, she still allows herself to feel the pain of her husband’s disappearance. Meg is inspired by her mother’s strength and intelligence daily, and honestly, so are we.


A-má — Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
Book cover for Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu. A young Taiwanese child with dark brown should-length hair wears a white chef's hat and white apron over top their pink tshirt. The child is holding up a full measuring cup. In front of them, there is a saucepan and a pot.

Cici and her grandmother are very close and connect over their shared love of Taiwanese food and flavors. The close bond between grandmother and granddaughter is a central theme in this culinary graphic novel, which shows how you can stay connected to those you love even when you’re worlds apart.



Mrs. Frisby — Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

When we first meet Mrs. Frisby, she has become the head of her family of field mice following her husband’s death. Now raising her children alone, Mrs. Frisby goes out into the wide world to save her son and rescue her home from complete destruction. Throughout this classic children’s story, Mrs. Frisby is portrayed as the very embodiment of strength and perseverance when faced with impossible odds.


Dr. Soledad Vega — Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks
Book cover for Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks. Two young children, one Black wearing red overalls and a white shirt and the other with dark skin and red hair, are floating in a space station. At the bottom right there is the head a small white cat.

Dr. Vega is not only the senior scientist of Wilnick Station, she’s also Tallulah’s brilliant, level-headed mother. Though Dr. Vega is often exasperated (and equally impressed) with Tallulah’s antics, she’s a stickler for scientific integrity and honesty. She’s always proud of Tallulah and watches eagerly, yet apprehensively as her daughter reaches new scientific heights.



Cooper & Jess’s mom — The In-Between by Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Book cover for The In-Between by Rebecca K.S. Ansari. In the silhouette of a child's head, elements that make up the story flow one into each other.

In this OwlCrate Jr fave from February 2021, we’re introduced to Cooper and Jess’s mother — a woman who has struggled just as much as her children, yet bravely perseveres. She cares deeply for both her children, keeps a close eye on Jess’s blood sugar, works multiple jobs, and still has time to make sure both Cooper and Jess have completed their homework. If that’s not a supermom for you, I don’t know what is.


Grandma Jo — The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry

Although Grandma Jo initially comes across as a little prickly and strict, it’s because she’s hiding a secret: she and her friends from the “bridge club” are really part of a heist club where they *ahem* liberate animals and objects back to their rightful owners. Grandma Jo is a woman of many layers and her sharpness, cleverness, and outlook on life throws her granddaughter AJ in turmoil over ethics, moral, and what it really means to be a “lady.” I think we could all learn a lot from this incredible grandmother.


Grammy — Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Grammy has happily raised her granddaughter Delsie in their seaside resort town her whole life with an unparalleled no-nonsense attitude and loving heart. As Delsie struggles to find her place in the world and wonders about her parents, Grammy provides Delsie with a safe space she can always rely on — along with a nearly endless amount of TV game shows.



The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick

We’d be remiss by not mentioning the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, where each book in the series focuses on a book the girls read, as well as the relationships between these girls, their relationships with their mothers, and just growing up.