Why We All Need Tough Mothers on Our Bookshelves

Are you still looking for the perfect Mother’s Day gift? Do you have a fearless badass lady in your life who is always searching for new reading material? Or, perhaps you’re a fearless badass lady yourself, but you’re in want of a little inspiration to keep on doing your thing. Whatever your situation, if you’re in need of empowering stories about real life women—and who isn’t in need of those?!—Jason Porath’s book Tough Mothers is for you.

Tough Mother’s: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs is a beautifully illustrated collection of mini-biographies about 50 fearless women from all over the world. Some of them, like Sojourner Truth and Benazir Bhutto, are women you may have already heard of. Others, like Marsha P. Johnson (the godmother of the trans civil rights movement) or Vera Peters (the mother of the modern mastectomy), are less famous, but certainly no less important.

The front cover of the book contains a very helpful world map, pinpointing the country and location that each woman’s story takes place. And the illustrations only get better from there. Jason Porath is not just an author, but also a former Dreamworks illustrator. Each mini-biography includes a beautiful portrait he has created of the woman in that story, doing the thing that made her famous. However, this is not a child’s picture book.

The book has been very cleverly organized based on a 1-5 rating Porath has given each story. The 1’s are coded green and considered PG-rated. They are the first few stories in the book. From there, the stories progress in maturity. A few at the end have a 5 or R-rating. These are coded red and include trigger warnings about things like rape, abuse, or violence.

It should be noted that only two stories receive the 5 rating. The vast majority are 2’s or 3’s. This is considered somewhere between a PG and PG-13 rating. The rating system is helpful, especially if you are looking to share these empowering stories with a daughter or other young woman in your life. And, trust me, you will want to.

One of my favorite stories was that of Canadian doctor Vera Peters. Over the course of 30 years she examined the cases of 8,000 breast cancer patients and single-handedly changed the way the disease is treated. She not only had to prove herself in a male-dominated field, but she had to do it in the 1960’s, a time when most breast cancer was treated with an immediate radical mastectomy, often without the patient’s consent.

Then there’s Pailadzo Captanian, the woman behind the recipe for rice-a-roni. While we now associate her with an instant boxed meal, she was actually a courageous survivor of the Armenian genocide. Forced to abandon her children and knowing her husband had been killed, she then made the trek from Turkey to Syria while pregnant. And she somehow lived to tell the tale. She would later find her children, immigrate to America, and serve what we now call rice-a-roni to her friends and family there.

The idea for Porath’s book came from his successful blog Rejected Princesses. The book continues with the same down-to-earth and approachable language you would expect from an experienced blogger. Most of the stories are just 3-5 pages long and take less than 10 minutes to read. However, Porath includes extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and explanations for his artwork. So those interested in the history can dive further into the details of the lives of these women.

Whether you are a lover of history, art, or feminism, there is a little something for everyone in Porath’s book. A lovely edition for any bookshelf, it is the kind of volume that multiple generations of women will want to turn to for inspiration and discussion over and over again.

These empowering stories are of women who not only shaped history, but completely redefined it. To do this they also needed to redefine their roles in society. Something all women can relate to as we continue to seek change today.

Tough Mother’s: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs is available now through HarperCollins and wherever books are sold.


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