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The Mischievous Mom at the Art Gallery

by Rebecca Eckler and Erica Ehm; Carrie Hartman, illus.

Fun is usually guaranteed when a child-like adult is in a position of authority. The motif has been well-established by the likes of the magical Mary Poppins, the idiom-challenged Amelia Bedelia, and the anarchic Cat in the Hat. Unfortunately, the unconventional mother in this first picture book by Rebecca Eckler (Knocked Up, Rotten Apple) and Erica Ehm (former MuchMusic VJ and founder of the Yummy Mummy Club) does not follow in the footsteps of these entertaining rabble-rousers.

The plot is summed up by the title. An outgoing, wacky mom goads her children into attending an art gallery party as her “dates.” The kids, Jessie and Josh, go reluctantly, fearing their maniacal matriarch will misbehave in her signature fashion. She does, of course, leading them into an off-limits room full of art supplies. The children eventually give up trying to play parents, join their mother in a painting free-for-all, and embrace being mortified by their mischievous mom.

Clumsy writing is not easily hidden in the spare text of a picture book, and the culprit here is redundancy. Eckler and Ehm repeatedly refer to their protagonist as a “Mischievous Mom,” in addition to noting her “mischievous grin” and “mischievous smile.” Demonstrating that a character is mischievous demands more than merely repeating the adjective, and the result is a flat caricature rather than an enthusiastic and empowered character.

Carrie Hartman’s illustrations are undeniably lively and vivacious, but there are inconsistencies between word and picture. At one point, the text says that “Jessie turned to her mother” to implore her to behave, but the illustration shows all three characters looking straight ahead with minimal facial expressions. At another point, the children are “desperately” trying to keep their mother in sight in an art gallery with only five visitors.

The front jacket material boasts that this book is “for modern moms and their children.” It is telling that the syntax of that sentence puts parent before tot, as this book is written with the parent, and not the child reader, in mind. More lesson than literature, the focus is on justifying the worth of a mom who wants to have fun, rather than actually creating fun through prose and pictures.