Mother's Day Gift: "Are You My Mother?" 50th Anniversary Edition

Jeanne Sager

Photo from Random House
Books are a Mother's Day gift no-brainer -- who doesn't like cuddling with the kids at bedtime?

Topping my list this year: A fresh copy of Are You My Mother? The silly story of baby bird's trek around the animal kingdom to figure out where he came from turns 50 this spring, originally published in June 1960 by one of my favorites -- P.D. Eastman. 

Yes, I said P.D. Eastman. Nothing gets me more fired up than hearing people credit one of the classics of kid lit to Dr. Seuss.

Nothing against the good doc, but Mr. Eastman has his own substantial legacy, and as a reminder, I tracked down his son, P.A. Eastman, who has followed in his footsteps as a children's author, for a chat.

Don't worry, he's a fan of Mr. Geisel.

Hitting the 50th anniversary mark of Are You My Mother? this year, what does this book mean to you?

The publication of Are You My Mother? coincided with my graduation from high school. Admittedly, my focus was, for the most part, elsewhere! I do remember that my father sent a copy to me at college freshman year. I was impressed with his work, both writing and illustration.

I'm now impressed with the fact that 95% of what my father had a hand in, both as a writer and an illustrator, is still in print!  Who would've guessed this 50 years ago!

Why do you think it's endured with parents who read it as children reading it to their own children?

Are You My Mother? has endured because it's a good, solid story that both parent and child can relate to. 

It's rooted in reality. I suppose one would call the subject "separation anxiety." There's a little bit of scariness ... a little bit of humor ... just the right balance to make it an enduring classic.

Any cool places you've noticed it?

Are You My Mother? has been published in a multitude of languages, from Spanish to Polish to Eskimo. My father was always pleased when he received one of the foreign editions from the publisher.

What about children's books inspired you to continue on in your father's footsteps and give us Fred and Ted stories?

Peter Anthony Eastman with his "kids," Fred and Ted
In many ways, I did follow in my father's footsteps. We both worked in the animation business -- P. D. in story departments, including Disney and UPA, and I animated and directed children's programming. Perhaps this is why I eased fairly smoothly into doing a continuation of my father's "Big Dog ... Little Dog."

In that vein, does Go, Dog. Go! outrank Are You My Mother? in your personal memories?

Go, Dog. Go! is zany, full of action and surreal imagery. Are You My Mother? is more rooted in reality and has a softer feel to it. The books are very different, but I like them equally.

What are your favorite children's books?

Most of my favorite children's books are ones I remember from childhood. They range from the early Dr. Seuss books like If I Ran the Zoo to the Margret and H. A. Rey Pretzel books about a super-long dachshund. Other favorites are Spotty Finds a Home, which is about a family of rabbits, and The Travels of Babar where Babar paints eyes on his rear end to scare the rhinos. I liked stories with animals in them -- as an adolescent my room was a menagerie.

Of more recently written books, I like some of the Maurice Sendak books, like Where the Wild Things Are and Mickey in the Night Kitchen.

What books are on your list to read to the kids on Mother's Day?

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