It’s a lot more difficult than you might think to find good parents in fiction: Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of fiction deals either with the lack of a parent—being a cardinal rule of children’s fiction to ditch the parents—or a parent’s complete unsuitability for the role. But there are a few out there, parents who make you think, “Gee, I wish my parents were like that.”
Here’s our totally comprehensive, really scientific overview of good parenting in fiction:
1. Atticus Finch
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The widowed father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes of American literature. Steering his young children along the path of moral rectitude is hard in the Jim Crow South, and when Atticus, a lawyer, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man from charges that he raped a white woman, it becomes even more difficult. But his own belief in rightness, morality, and good, even in the face of an unfair world, is communicated to his kids — and to the world. His impact on the legal profession, especially in the South, was also profound: The Atticus Finch Society, part of the Alabama Law Foundation, was founded to serve the legal needs of the poor and named after a fictional lawyer who “epitomizes the type of professional, and person, lawyers strive to be.”
2. Alex and Kate Murry
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Tesseracts are real and Meg and Charles Murry’s scientist father has disappeared into one—and it’s up to these two brilliant but socially awkward children to save him. When it was published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was a sci-fi gift to all those nerdy kids out there for whom Star Trek hadn’t been invented yet. And the Murry parents—beautiful and smart microbiologist Kate and tesseract physicist Alex—made being scientists seem so cool. Who wouldn’t want parents like that?
3. The Weasleys
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Marmee is the glue that holds the Little Women together through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. Kind and charitable, she’s their moral compass, their comfort in troubled times. Without her, the four girls, Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth, are lost.
5. Mr. and Mrs. Little
Stuart Little by EB White
Interspecies procreation is typically cause for concern, but not for Mr. and Mrs. Little. When their son, Stuart, was born a mouse, the kind, though perhaps a bit dense, Littles treated him just like any other member of the family. A member of the family who had a long tail, whiskers, slept in a cigarette box and could climb up lamp cords.
6. Ma and Pa Ingalls
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Though Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the Indian Territory, now Kansas, in the mid to late 19th century are actually autobiographical, the books tend to be found in the children’s fiction part of the bookstore, so they make the list. Pa was a true pioneer with a serious case of wanderlust: He could build a house by hand and skin a rabbit, but still remained a gentleman, kind, courteous and upstanding. Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer’s wife, instructed her children to treat others with care.
7. Mr. and Mrs. Quimby
Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Her parents, Bob and Dorothy, meanwhile, are real parents, who have to deal with real things like quitting smoking, having children young, getting laid off, and 8-year-olds who accidentally dye themselves blue. And they even get in fights, like real parents do. But throughout it all, they manage to remain patient and affectionate with their children; they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good.
8. Carlisle and Esme Cullen
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
OK, so they’re vampires. But they’re good vampires, with fabulous dress sense, lots of money, and consciences. Carlisle Cullen is a doctor at the local hospital, having overcome his natural vampiric attraction to blood, and is the founder of the Forks coven that includes dreamy Edward. His compassion and kindness is what keeps the family “vegetarian” and from draining the little rainy town dry. His wife, Esme, loves her adopted children deeply and is the kind of warm, calming influence the family needs. Best of all, they love Bella, Edward’s human beloved, as one of their own.
9. Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Blank Panther, and the wolves
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
After they save him from becoming tiger Shere Khan’s meal, Father Wolf and Mother Wolf raise the hairless man-cub Mowgli as one of their own. But it’s up to Baloo the sleepy bear and Bagheera the panther to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle—thereby becoming the coolest godparents in the world.
10. The Gilbreths
Cheaper By The Dozen by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
So, the Gilbreths were actual people, not fiction, and this charming book, published in 1948, is a biography written by their children. But—and we mean this as a compliment—the parents are so lovely as to almost seem made up. Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, are world-famous efficiency experts whose studies in time and motion changed the way people worked. If Frank had his way, it would have also changed the way people raised children, especially after their incredible fecundity produced 12 children. Having an even dozen children meant that the Gilbreths could apply some of their expertise in their Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hilarity ensues, as does an overwhelming sense of warmth and happiness.
The two children wrote a follow up book, Belles on Their Toes, recounting what happened after Frank’s death in 1924, which left Lillian with house full of children, the youngest just 2 years old, and a business to run. Mother Lillian manages to keep it all together, with good humor and warmth, and the book manages to stay away from the maudlin.
Now it's your turn. Who would you add to the list?
Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10! To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.