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Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  447 ratings  ·  90 reviews
A toddler's mother, both an intimate guide and an affectionate coach, writes to a pregnant friend about the transforming experience of motherhood.
"These are letters I would have welcomed when I was pregnant," says Beth Ann Fennelly, as she seeks to go beyond the nuts and bolts or sentimentality of other parenting literature. The letters range in tone from serious to siste
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published May 19th 2006 by W. W. Norton & Co. (first published April 17th 2006)
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62nd out of 101 books — 5 voters
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41st out of 51 books — 5 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,062)
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What a beautiful, beautiful collection of letters this was! Reading it, I couldn't help but think two things: 1) We'd all be so lucky to have a poet for a friend, one who could pen us the most gorgeous sentences to look forward to in the mail such as these and 2) no one writes eloquent letters like this anymore, not in this Internet-driven, 140-character-favoring society we now live in.

What I loved most is how the letters between Beth Ann (a University of Mississippi English professor and mother
Whew, it's a relief to say this book of letters is amazing. Because there were so many ways it could have gone wrong: if it were too sappy I (perhaps because I'm male and am in so many ways disconnected from the emotions of motherhood) would have been bored, if it were too trivial (by simply relaying how she spent her day each day) I would have been reminded of how much I disliked Marianne Moore's book of letters, if were too 'academic' then it wouldn't have felt like a genuine exchange between ...more
This book is extremely sentimental. And I hate sentimentalism, especially about how children are magical to be around. I find books that focus on the "specialness" of being a mother to be trite and cloying, not to mention unrealistic.

But somehow, this one got through my thorny skeptical shell and was actually charming, heartfelt, and very satisfying to read.

"You are a warrior. You are a warrior, and for your whole life your body has been warming up for this great fight. These last
**UPDATE: Just reread this for inspiration during my current pregnancy. Still really loved it.**

Maybe it's just because I'm pregnant, but I LOVED this book. The author is a poet, and the book is composed of letters she wrote to a younger friend (actually a former student of hers) who was pregnant and asked for advice on pregnancy and motherhood. Her poetic leanings come through in each letter as she frankly but lyrically writes about so many aspects of expecting and raising a baby. I underlined
Beautiful meditation on motherhood as told in letters from one poet to her former student.

This is exactly the sort of pregnancy book I’ve been looking for as an expectant mother. Fennelly gets it, the overwhelming nature of the fear and the dreams, but addresses it from the lovely vantage point of someone on the shore with one toe still dipped in. Her writing is so beautiful it made me consider picking up some of her poetry, even though I came to this book for the content rather than the style.
Teresa Raetz
This book gets a lot more stars than I gave it so obviously a lot people like it. And there are things in it to like. I was excited to read this book because I heard the author, a poet who teaches at the Ole Miss, on NPR's Fresh Air. She was funny, warm, and has written some great poetry. To bad this person wasn't always present in these letters. There are funny and warm moments full of insight about motherhood and you get those when the author relaxes and gets out of her own way. But unfortunat ...more
Evanston Public  Library
Amid the plethora of pregnancy books, this is a stand-out. In letters to a pregnant former student (whose own mother had died and who was living in Alaska, far from friends and family), poetry professor Fennelly lovingly commiserates and encourages her friend, describing the joys, frustrations and excitement of being a first-time mom. Beautifully written, poignant and funny. It was given to me when I was pregnant with my first child and was the only pregnancy book I actually read, cover-to-cover ...more
This book was beautiful and such a quick and enjoyable read. I loved it & will read it again. Perfect gift for a new mom (probably my go to at baby showers from now on), great for reading in those early days of mother hood when its all so fresh and overwhelmingly beautiful.
absolutely gorgeous. Possibly my favorite mom-book. Beautiful language paired with an honest, hopeful outlook. Tastes of southern influence, sassy womanhood, joyful mothering, and straight up thoughtful writing.
Stefanie Pepping
I thought that this book was fantastic. I received it as a baby shower gift and was pleasantly surprised as I read through the letters. The anecdotes were beautiful. They really capture the experience that come with mothering a child for the first time - the overwhelming love and joy, the newness of exploring everything with them, sometimes partnered with an inevitable guilt or (dare I say) slight resentment. Yes, there are negative emotions involved! But everything has its ups and downs. The wr ...more
A collection of letters, in which a poet tells one of her former students what to expect about the wonders and joys (as well as pains and fears) of motherhood. While Fennelly does not quite manage her promised one-letter-a-day-for-nine-months, she does provide some beautiful insights -- ones that I too can appreciate, as an expectant father.

Letters that really stand out include ones about the poet's own dysfunctional family ("What is a virgin?" she asks her mother as a young girl, home from her
Sonya Feher
Jul 08, 2008 Sonya Feher rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: pregnant women
Shelves: pregnancy, memoir
I have a friend who is in the first trimester of her pregnancy. I wish I had written her these letters. Instead, I’ve ordered her Great with Child. Fennelly’s letters to a former student turned friend contain practical advice, poetic description, and an introspection that teems with the need to be honest with herself and her friend. It’s so easy to give “This is how I did it" instruction and that is not at all what this book does. Great with Child recognizes that parenthood is not one size fits ...more
Mandy Fernandez
This book is nothing but letters from one friend to another. There are no chapters, no plots. It's just heartfelt words from one young mother to another mother-to-be as she grows in her pregnancy. Even though some letters are just a paragraph of silliness or five pages about a miscarriage, the overall book says so much. It's not one you can probably read (or want to) in one sitting but it's the kind of book you can take several weeks to enjoy, like I did. Or share with a friend or give as a gift ...more
Jan 14, 2010 Agnes rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: All parents (would-be or actual)
Recommended to Agnes by: Claire R.
I am at a loss for words to describe how much I loved this book, which I suppose is to be expected after reading something so beautifully written. A collection of letters written by a former Knox poetry professor to her former student who is pregnant, the book is the most heartfelt and honest expression of motherhood that I have ever read. Admittedly, I don't read enough poetry or even beautiful prose on a regular basis, so that may be part of the reason why I was continually astounded at how in ...more
Feb 05, 2010 Caitlin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: to any parent - ESPECIALLY if you are pregnant and have a kid
Recommended to Caitlin by: Bill and Agnes - THANK YOU!
Shelves: 2010
I find this book a bit is almost like it was written for me. The narrator is a professor grappling with her extremely flexible, highly demanding, self-motivated work schedule and raising a toddler. Her struggles with finding her professional self, justifying her work time without feeling guilty, trying to appreciate her daughter, trying to be a good parent, and dealing with everyone's perceptions of the above is so eerily similar to my life it freaked me out.

On the down side - I do n
Had I not already known Fennelly is a poet, I could have ascertained it from the incisiveness of her unique, visually sumptuous metaphors and allusions. She wrote this group of letters to a former student of hers, so the tone is affectionately peer-to-peer, with an added touch of the mentor. (Fennelly's former student/friend is pregnant with her first child; Fennelly writes to her like an older sister, having been there/done that with her own first child.) Because these stream-of-consciousness l ...more
Dec 31, 2011 Rebecca rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rebecca by: Denise
This was the book about motherhood I have been looking for my whole pregnancy. Thanks so much to Denise for finding and recommending it. This book is a series of letters from 2004 from poet and Ole Miss professor Beth Ann Fennelly to her friend and former student Kathleen. Kathleen is living in Alaska, far from her Georgia friends and family and is expecting her first child. Beth Ann writes not a how-to-parenting guide or an overtly sentimental treatise on the joys of mothering, but an alternati ...more
Ellen Keim
A too-brief book (I didn't want it to end!) about the experience of being a mother, this is a collection of letters written by a mother of a three-year-old to her friend who is expecting. The writing is conversational in tone, sometimes poetic, always honest and sometimes hilarious. This is the kind of book you want to give all your friends who are mothers of young children. (I wouldn't recommend it to an expectant mother, though, because of some of the subject matter.)
Emilia P
Thank you Kelsey Keyes! You wonderful young mother you! Kelsey sweetly sent me this book immediately after I told her I was expecting, and it got me through the second part of the first trimester, which hey guys, it's a really emotional time! Equal parts highbrow poetics and anecdotes and pulling undigested bits of floss out of your toddler's butt, I careened through the ups and downs of parenthood, spousal love, pregnancy and labor fears, and hmmm just all of that good gushy stuff. And a realll ...more
Dec 10, 2011 Sue rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Pregnant people
Recommended to Sue by: Cup of Jo
This series of letters from a poet and professor who is a mother of a 3-year old to a pregnant former student are sweet. Some sadness, hilarity, and just honest truth comes through in the letters, which cover everything from the poignancy of her own child outgrowing phases so quickly to the nitty gritty of the hospital to marital realities before, during, and after a baby. I read this book after reading about it on Cup of Jo , who recommends it as an antidote to the horror stories that other wom ...more
i'd give this one 3.5 stars if that were an option, so i'm rounding up. there were some really beautiful words and interesting topics in this book. her writing style was a little too poetic for me. she is a poet, so it's to be just seemed a little too flowery and pretentious to me at times.

here is one of my favorite parts...
"Women aren't normally encouraged to provide themselves time and resources, especially if doing so requires sacrifices from others. But it's a skill we need to
A quick, mostly pleasant read. I was expecting to like it a lot more though! I was put off by the author's affected "old and wise" tone (she was 33 when she wrote this!) and by a few cringe-worthy overwritten moments. Still, there are some beautiful reflections in here, and the calm vibe of the book is a nice change from the more "how to" pregnancy / parenting guides.
Oct 31, 2013 Jen rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: adult
This is a great collection of letters containing more than parenting/pregnancy advice, but life advice.
some of my favorite quotes from this book...

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue...they are difficult things with which we have been charged; almost everything is difficult and everything is serious. -Rilke, pg 72 great with child (From Letters to a young poet)

Beautiful book about the love story that is motherhood. One of my favorite lines in the book:
"There are too many people out there who think their way is the right way, which it might be -- and their way is the only way, which it is not. If there's one thing I can say for certain about motherhood, it's that it is a transformation that is deeply individual."
I loved this book! Given that I was pregnant while I was reading it, it gave me a sense of peace when I felt anxious and truly made me slow down and want to appreciate every moment of motherhood. The writing is beautiful and her letters are relatable. I can't wait to reread it!
I was looking forward to reading about another mom's thoughts on parenting, but this book struck me as totally pretentious. It was also hard to believe that someone (a mom-to-be) was willing to let her friend (the author and mom of a toddler) publish such intimate letters; or perhaps it was Fennelly's suggestion to publish and therefore capitalize on their written exchange (even though there is no correspondence from the preggie friend). I was surprised that Fennelly chose to write about her own ...more
Beautiful, poignant insights of pregnancy, motherhood, and life. I also loved the tidbits of research she shared in each letter too. This book is filled with reality and lovely metaphors. My copy is underlined and highlighted all over.
Wavering between two and three stars, but ultimately went with two because even though some of the writing was lovely and there were some fun stories throughout, the author kept getting on my nerves.
this was a lot better than other pregnancy books I've been reading, just because it's anecdotal and not so ... textbookish. some of the warrior mama/poetry stuff was a little much for me, but i am still really, really glad i read this.
Really enjoyed this book. I was given it by my very dearest friend. I loved the realness, sweetness and the sincerity of this book.
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Beth Ann Fennelly is the author of Tender Hooks: Poems and Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother . A professor of English at the University of Mississippi, Fennelly lives with her husband and children in Oxford, Mississippi. ...more
More about Beth Ann Fennelly...
Tender Hooks: Poems Unmentionables: Poems Open House A Different Kind of Hunger The Tilted World

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“Whether you're explaining where pets go when they die or teaching your child to recycle, your philosophies have ramifications. For the rest of history, echos of your voice will be heard.” 0 likes
“When sharing your news, you might come across some disgruntled parent-folk. You know, the kind who snort and say ruefully, "If there's anyplace you want to travel to, go now." Don't let them squelch your joy, dear K: these are the kind of people who never went anywhere before they had babies either.” 0 likes
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