An illustration of someone selecting a book from a bookshelf for their maternal figure.
An illustration of someone selecting a book from a bookshelf for their maternal figure.

There are few better ways to show somebody you care than with a book: we share cherished reads because the author has expressed a feeling or sentiment better than we ever could, recipe books so that we can gather to celebrate together, or memoirs so that we can connect over shared history.

This Mother’s Day, we asked our colleagues which books they’re using to connect with their mothers, maternal figures or other parent figures this year. Here are their thoughtful, heartfelt, and well-reasoned picks.

Ammu by Asma Khan, chosen by Zainab Juma, Brand Campaigns Manager

My mum and my aunt, like many people, learned to cook their repertoire of Indian and East African dishes from the women in their lives: my nan, both of their mothers-in-law, a never-ending exchange of recipes with each other. With my nan’s memory now long-lost to Alzheimer’s, the pair of them are determined to keep the family culinary inheritance alive, passing their knowledge down to me and my siblings and cousins. Asma Khan’s story of immigrating to the UK and finding home in food and in a community of women has already found fervent fandom in my family. My mum and aunt will find great comfort in seeing their experiences represented and celebrated in Ammu, Khan’s tribute to her own mother and her childhood memories.

Read more: Asma Khan on food, legacy and the lessons her mother gave her

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout, chosen by Chloe Johnson-Hill, Penguin Live Director

There are many reasons why I’m giving this book to my mother this year, not least because it is A Thing of Beauty. That glorious blue quarterbind! That New York skyline! Wonderful.  But the real reason is that of the many things my mother and I have in common – we look the same, we talk too much, we don’t like tinned sweetcorn – one of them is that we both firmly believe Elizabeth Strout is a stone cold genius. I’m particularly excited about handing over Oh William! because there are several scenes in which the reader is inside the unforgettable main character Lucy Barton’s head while she’s with her grown-up daughters, and I can’t wait to talk about those universal mothering moments with her.

Free Love by Tessa Hadley, chosen by Alice Vincent, Features Editor

I’ve long been urging Tessa Hadley’s writing on my mum because her stories of domestic, usually women’s lives in England between the 1940s and present day remind me a lot of those my mother has told me. Don’t, though, let the Laura Ashley curtains put you off: Hadley’s writing may be quiet, but she knows how to plumb deeply into the human condition. Free Love, released in January, is her most accessible – and fun – book yet, in which a happy-enough housewife abandons 1960s suburbia for a lover half her age in West London. It is warm, knowing and perceptive, and I’d love to talk about it with my mum. 

Read more: Tessa Hadley: 'I am so glad I didn't publish a debut novel at 25'
 

A pictorial quote about Asma Khan's book Ammu, on a yellow background next to the book's cover
A pictorial quote about Asma Khan's book Ammu, on a yellow background next to the book's cover

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, chosen by Lucy Anderson, Social Impact Manager

I’m buying my mum Lessons in Chemistry this Mother’s Day, because the main character, Elizabeth Zott, reminds me of her: she’s a hardworking, no-nonsense woman, taking constant misogyny in her stride and staying resilient in the face of setbacks. And, of course… she’s a good cook! There’s nothing I love more than my Mum’s gammon roast, followed by her apple crumble. Lessons in Chemistry is a cracker of a debut, and it’s the perfect gift for my cracker of a mum.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson, chosen by Stephen Carlick, Associate Editor

A few years ago, my mum picked up Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, sparking a lively book club-style conversation between us that we’ve since tried to keep alive with other books I’ve recommended: some fruitful (The Vanishing Half!), some not (Mrs Dalloway…!). But I think Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake will be a winner: my mum likes novels about family, and she likes big, emotional themes that scintillate first, then provide rich material for discussing afterward, so Wilkerson’s captivating story about memory and family inheritance should be just the thing.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, chosen by Kezia Newson, Senior Creative Content Producer

Reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith feels like you're part of the most wonderfully eccentric family: a father shutting himself in a castle turret to write his novel; a stepmother who runs outside naked in the rain to commune with nature; an actual MOAT outside your bedroom?! Sign me up! It's a coming-of-age story that should be passed down to any teenager, and is one of mine and my mum's favourites to read, and reread, and reread... There's something about the humour that reminds me of our own family, but maybe I shouldn't be admitting that? We are both eternally grateful to Cassandra and co. for bringing us comfort and many laughs over the years.
 

A pictorial quote about Bonnie Garmus's book Lessons in Chemistry, on a green background next to the book's cover
A pictorial quote about Bonnie Garmus's book Lessons in Chemistry, on a green background next to the book's cover

Worn by Sofi Thanhauser, chosen by Emily Cornell, Audience Insight Assistant

My mum is my biggest inspiration, and I absolutely love picking out presents for her. In my early life, my mum was a history academic who lectured at UCL. She later became a jewellery designer, focusing her creativity on giving new life to vintage broaches, necklaces and bracelets. So when I came across Worn by Sofi Thanhauser in my first few weeks of working at Penguin, I knew it was the perfect book for my mum, seamlessly combining her passion for both history and fashion. Also, I’ve already decided I’ll definitely be borrowing it once my mum’s finished, so it’s a two-in-one present really!

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Dr Julie Smith, chosen by Jon Donovan, Digital Marketing Director

I bought my mom Dr Julie Smith’s Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my mom at the kitchen table working on our monthly budget, stressing about it and worrying. It wasn’t just about money – she has always worried, and was always anxious about social situations and how things she said may have been perceived. She was particularly stressed this year with Covid and some family stuff, and after buying three copies of this book for others – including my wife – I ordered one for my mom to help.

Taste by Stanley Tucci, chosen by Fran Pymm, Social Media Editor

My mum was born in a small village in Umbria, central Italy. For as long as I can remember, family gatherings have been loud, joyful affairs, gathered around platters of mouth-watering pasta al forno and crunchy, sugar-dusted frappe. It's been a while since we’ve gotten to do that properly thanks to, you know, *gestures at the general state of the world*, and I know it's something she misses. That's why, this Mother's Day, I'll be giving her Stanley Tucci's incredible food memoir, Taste. Not only is it packed with delicious recipes, but also funny, nostalgic reflections on the actor's life in and out of the kitchen – basically, a love letter to the way food can unite and inspire us all. Incredibly heart-warming. Plus, we've never discussed it, but I can only assume that, like 99% of the population, she has a crush on the Tooch.
 

Read more: Stanley Tucci on the best meal he's ever eaten

A pictorial quote about Sofi Thanhauser’s book Worn, on an orange background next to the book's cover
A pictorial quote about Sofi Thanhauser’s book Worn, on an orange background next to the book's cover

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim, chosen by Shaheena Ormerod-Sachedina, Internal Communications Manager

So the book that I would buy for my mum is The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down. My mum is always busy looking after everyone else (including me), and I would love to gift her a book that would encourage her to take some time for herself. I also love that this the kind of book that you can dip in and out of, and open up at a random page to give you something to ponder, or to inspire you. Great for her as she cannot get through a chapter of a novel without falling asleep these days!

The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart, chosen by Rhiannon Griffiths, Online Editor

I think The Poetry Pharmacy is the perfect gift for any loved one, whatever the occasion – but particularly for my mum this Mother’s Day. This beautiful little book has a prescription for whatever ails you. Whether you’re feeling hopeless or anxious, overwhelmed or grief-stricken, there’s a poem that will provide you with advice and solace, and show you that you’re not alone. It’s been hard to see my mum as much as I’d like over the past couple of years, while the world has been in turmoil and so much has felt uncertain, but The Poetry Pharmacy has become a book that I cherish, and I now press it into the hands of those I care about in the hope it will bring them the same reassurance and make them feel that little bit lighter.

Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola, chosen by Candy Ikwuwunna, Audience Development Manager

I would want to buy my mother Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola. My biggest wish for my mum is for her to have fun, and spend her time doing things that bring her joy. She’s a huge romcom fan – I feel like everyone should watch a romcom with her, she fully feels every emotion and that in itself is cinema. Babalola’s collection of love stories, inspired by myths around the world, is perfect for someone with such a huge heart! 

 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Illustration at top: Flynn Shore

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