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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Fuse 8 n’ Kate: A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

Having successfully predicted one of the Caldecott Honors in our last episode, Kate is quick to pop my puffed up ego right from the start of this week’s recording. And good thing too, since the book I bring is none other than that Reading Rainbow classic A Chair for My Mother. I talk about some of the good narrative choices made by this book, while Kate talks about some of the very strange illustration choices.

Listen to the whole show here on Soundcloud or download it through iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, PlayerFM, or your preferred method of podcast selection.

Show Notes:

As I mention at the start, Caldecott Honor winner (for Three Jovial Huntsman) Susan Jeffers passed away recently. You may read more about her life here.

Kate notices, and it’s rather fascinating, that when they remade this interior image for the cover, they removed the bird perched on the upper left-hand side of the image. My working theory is that with the new title the bird would have been placed too close to the border, but I’d love it if anyone knew the real story.

Mama’s arms occasionally go AWOL. First one, then another.

To properly appreciate this book, it helps to look to the borders. Williams has mentioned that she may have been influenced by children’s books int the past that sported pretty borders. The tulip sequence is more than just pretty, though. First, you see red and yellow tulips on a day when everything seems happy. Next, the border appears a series of burnt, blackened tulips. Finally, as the neighbors help out, new tulip growth appears.

A young Jimmy Olson or the Aunt? Kate says she looks a little too happy, but I point out that if you want to convey to someone desperate, maybe a reassuring grin is a good thing.

Why isn’t this father stopping his kid from eating the pizza he’s donating to our heroine? Tacky, dude.

Eat your heart out Steve Jenkins. This is a heck of an Actual Size dime. Kate measured it against a real dime. It’s perfect.

Awfully kind of the cat to hold the door open like that. I don’t know about your felines but mine don’t usually feel that chivalrous.

Kate was baffled by this next picture, and I can’t say as I blame her. Ending with the shot of the family in the chair seems natural. So why would also include this mildly off-putting image of the two making goofy faces? It’s a cute idea but I’d argue that the actual presentation looks more odd that touching.

Read the obituary for Ms. Williams in The New York Times which reads Vera B. Williams, 88, Dies; Brought Working Class to Children’s Books.

How lucky we are that Horn Book makes their Horn Book-Boston Globe Book Award speeches available for free on their site. Please read Vera B. Williams’ discussion about the origins of this book here.

The podcast I love is Marlon and Jake Read Dead People. Just give a listen to the first episode. So very good.

Finally, it appears that The Rabbit Hole, that upcoming magnificent explorastorium in North Kansas City, MS, has an upcoming exhibit involving A Chair for My Mother. Ever wanted to sit in the chair yourself? Now you’ll be able to!

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. To Betsy Bird: I think you and I may have met, but I could be wrong. I’d like to send you, via email, a photo that I took last spring of Vera B. Williams’ three adult children sitting on and in the life-size Chair for My Mother in the memorial garden at its May 4 dedication on the grounds of the Monticello, NY Public Library. I’m extremely ungainly with cyber matters, but I can manage to email an iPhone photo. If you’re willing to send me your email address I can do that, and with pleasure. Or maybe you’d like me to send you a paper version via postal mail. I’m guessing that you’d be interested in seeing the chair and Vera’s son and daughters on and in it. Sincerely, Virginia