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Write On Ottawa: Children’s book still delights more than 20 years later

By Alejandro Bustos on April 2, 2014

They say you never forget your first love.  For some authors this is particularly true, as their first book holds such a special place in their hearts they decide, years later, to publish it once again.

For Rachna Gilmore, the acclaimed Ottawa-based children’s author, this is what happened with My Mother is Weird, a picture book first published in 1988, but which has been re-released by Acorn Press.

My Mother is Weird was originally published by Ragweed Press in P.E.I. and to my delight was a huge success,” says Gilmore.  “Unfortunately, the publisher sold the press to someone else, who sold it to someone else, who eventually shut the press down. So my book’s rights reverted to me.

“I knew the book had a longer life because I continued to receive mail about it, including from people who’d read it as children and wanted it for their children!”

While the new version contains some changes from the original book, the story is mostly the same.

“I tweaked the original text a bit, replacing the odd word to avoid repetition.  As a writer I tend to fiddle endlessly to find just the right word,” says Gilmore, whose books have been translated into several languages, including Korean, Spanish, French, Danish and German.  “The art, too, has been tweaked.  The cover, for instance, although of the same original illustration, is slightly different.”

My Mother is Weird is a cute story about a little girl who notices that her mother sometimes gets grumpy.  In the morning, before her coffee, the girl’s mom sometimes has horns on her head.  Once she has a cup of java, however, she begins to speak in “a soft, smooth voice.”

The book goes on to describe how taking care of children can sometimes make parents grumpy.  The sweet ending, however, offers a kind lesson in how love can overcome even the biggest case of the grumps.

“I came up with the idea when my oldest daughter, now 33, was six years old,” says Gilmore, whose 1999 picture book A Screaming Kind of Day won the 1999 Governor General’s Award for Children’s literature.  “I read many books to her and realized that there were all kinds of stories about kids having bad days, but none about a kid watching a mom or dad having a bad day.”

Like many parents, Gilmore wanted to be a calm, unflappable mother, but like any person she had bad days.  So she came up with the premise for a book about a mother who is grumpy.

“I didn’t know how to make the story move forward beyond those basic ideas, until one day, I was in a hurry to get somewhere, and my six-year-old daughter was trying to talk to me,” recalls Gilmore, whose best-selling books have earned her numerous honours and awards.

“I turned to her and said, kiddingly, ‘Look, can’t you see I’ve got horns and claws and pointy teeth – just leave me alone.’  My daughter just shook her head and rolled her eyes and said, ‘Ah, Mom, you’re weird.’”