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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

The Worst Mother or Father of 2015: Cast Your Votes Now

It’s a little unfair posting this request in early March, of all times of the year.  After all, I’ve only read a smattering of the 2015 books for children, and I haven’t even seen the bulk of the fall list!

But what I have read has definitely stood out.  Bad parents are a children’s book staple.  Sometimes the author spares the kiddo and just kills them off, but once in a while an author will go that extra mile and make a truly terrible parent.  It’s sort of an alternative way of separating your child hero from the eyes of a concerned caring adult.

So who’s the worst?  I’m sort of amused by the plethora.  Here are some of the standouts thus far:

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

So far “Mam” is my number one bad parenting pick.  She’s so bad (“How bad is she?” asks the crowd) that she verges on parody.  If it weren’t enough that her daughter is born with an easy to correct (even pre-WWII) “clubfoot” and she refuses to have it treated, she’s also verbally and physically abusive.  If she had her way her daughter would remain a mindless prisoner in a tiny apartment for the rest of her life.  Oh.  And she doesn’t love her kids.  Nuff said.

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

If Mam was an example of a mother who loves her daughter the least, the mother in Cuckoo Song may love her own the most . . .  and at a terrible cost.  The father too, for that matter.  Theirs is a caustic, horrible love that is destroying their two remaining children after the eldest is killed in WWI.  Heck, it’s pretty much continuing to haunt their missing eldest as well.  Even in death you sometimes cannot escape your parents.

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

This is an interesting case.  I can’t exactly explain why the parents in this book are bad without giving away the plot entirely.  Let us simply say that some love their kids, some dislike them, and not a single one is to be trusted.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.

Any others come to mind?  I know I’ve read about some other horrific ones.  Lay ’em on me.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. There’s a doozy in Laura Amy Schlitz’s forthcoming THE HIRED GIRL. (I’m revealing the cover on Monday!)

  2. Eric Carpenter says:

    Joseph’s father in Gary Schmidt’s forthcoming ORBITING JUPITER is the worst I’ve read this year. He makes the dad in Okay for Now seem down right pleasant.

  3. Funny. I asked Kimberly Brubaker Bradley about Mam for a Kirkus Q&A I’m doing with her next week. I’ll try to remember to send you the link.

    There’s a pretty lousy mother in Nicholas Gannon’s THE DOLDRUMS, which I’m reading now with my girls (an early copy). And a horrible teacher. It’s quite Dahl-ian in many respects. I just made up that word.

  4. I haven’t read any of these, so can’t vote! lol

  5. I just finished THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE. Petty horrible mother. It sounds like this might be the year for horrible parents in books!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Though to be fair, every year has its standouts. The parents in The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins pretty much take the cake for me. Selling your kids’ teeth while they’re still in his mouth? Phew!

  6. When I saw the title of this post, I immediately thought of “The War that Saved My Life”. So Mam gets my vote!

  7. The War That Saved My Life, the mother is pretty awful (although I manage to dredge up some sympathy for her when I realize she was saddled with two kids she never wanted on half the income or less of what she expected. Not MUCH sympathy, but a little), but I have a real rage-on against narcicisstic parents, and hoo-boy, the ones in Cuckoo Song are that.

  8. I am no longer on speaking terms with the entire family of Owen Thorskgard after reading Prairie Fire, but I can’t tell you why until you’ve read it. A combination of horrible and wonderful love.

  9. A new YA popular title, The Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton has a very scary dad immediately at the beginning; i almost stopped reading because of it & the other violence. At the end i’m still wondering why the author portrayed him like this.

  10. Brian Wilson says:

    I just reviewed the audio for The Left Behinds: The iPhone that Saved George Washington, and the parents of the three kids in that book are real gems–neglectful and distant . But of course if they had been less self-centered there would have been no bizarre time travel adventure.

  11. Brian Wilson says:

    Just started reading The War That Saved My Life. Oh my, I see what you’re saying! Terrifying mother. I’m almost afraid to pick up the other titles now mentioned in this thread if they are just as bad…