A recent NYT article about THE GIVING TREE sparked much online discussion in the children’s literature world. Which reminded me that we had a heated discussion on Child_lit years ago on another Love or Hate book: LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch. The discussion thread was archived by me with permission of online publication from all participants at the time for my original Fairrosa Cyber Library site which is slowly migrating to here.
These email exchanges on the listserv occured in March & April of 1995.
All rights reserved for individual contributors.
- Dian Maureen Borek: Hi!I would like to go on record as one of those sentimental types that love Love You Forever. My only comment is as follows: let us not forget that although we often think of reading in static terms – (the art form is has been described as linear)- it is in fact a dynamic medium. What one gets out of books can be directly related to what we bring to them as readers. Our background, personality and other reading experiences are always part of our reading experience. I am an overly affectionate individual (I “hugga-lot”). Such an open display of affection, in Love You Forever, is not everyone’s “cup of tea.” Also, sometimes personal experiences can be intrusive in our reading interpretations. I do not believe that the work is meant to be taken so literally – ie driving across town and sneaking into a grown man’s bedroom- it is a metaphorical statement of a love that cannot be excluded by physical boundaries.Remember, Robert Munsch wrote this book for his still- born child. After several miscarriages he and his wife are now the proud parents of some ‘chosen’ children.
Speaking of bringing outside experiences, I enjoyed the Giver but could not escape the similarities of other pieces of literature that struck me as marring the originality of the work. To name only one- the memories experiences of Aila in Clan of the Cave Bear were very similar to the Giver’s memories as was the method of sharing. Recognizing our own biases makes our reading experiences richer- but only if we acknowledge them. This whole exercise could be a good insight into reader’s perceptions and the big part they play in the critiquing of any literature. I guess the lesson is to realize these different perspectives exist. Afterall – who knows what experiences our young readers bring with them into the library? What might be fairly innocuous to us could be traumatic for them. Just some thoughts to keep in mind during any reader’s advisory we may give to our young patrons.
- Jane Yolen: I am a hugger, too. I am sentimental. I am gooey over my first grandchild. I adore my grown children. BUTI find LOVE YOU FOREVER to be about an incredibly dysfunctional family, with a mother who infantilizes her child, invades his private space, never can say “I love you” when he is awake, and even when he is grown manages his life. I am convinced she drugs his cocoa, otherwise why does he sleep so soundly when she crawls (!) into his room and picks him up every single night.And when the teenage daughter awakes one night and finds her father holding her in his lap, she is going to call 911.
Nope–this one is a very dangerous book. IMHO. And not at all amusing.
- Emily Carton: I find I’ll Love you Forever an incredible loving book. As as parent, I understood the mother’s absolute love of her child, the necessity to let him go, and the desire to always hold him as her baby. And as a geriatric social worker, I thought the son’s understanding of his mother and his ultimate sensitivity to her and love for her that at the end translated to the next generation was an optimistic and loving portrayal of what can happen between parents and children ( although often it does not). As a parent, I read it to my children, a son and daughter, who intuitively and then later intellectually understood it. For months they had me read it over and over again. And to add a parting note, the first several time my husband read it, he had tears in his eyes. It might be “creepy,” to some. But to us, it spelled Love in a very deep and all too honest way.
- Heather Wallace: Robert Munsch is one of the best children’s authors around as fa r as I am concerned. Please remember, not all books or stories have to have a moral to them — some can just be plain fun. most of Bob Munsch’s are. And if you have ever had the opportunity to see him tell his stories in front of children, (I luckily have!) you would be amazed at the response by the children. His stories are often repetitive, (children love it — they can help tell the story too), and many are ridiculous (another thing kids LOVE). I’ll love you forever, in my opinion, is not a story about a dysfunctional family, nor is it creepy, it is a story about a mother who loves her son. And he in turn loves his new daughter. If anuthing it is a wonderful story about loving your family. I don’t think we need to”read” anything more into it.And just to mention MY personal favorites: Do read Mortimer, the Paper Bag Princess, Pigs, and Show and Tell. they are all wonderful.
- Emily Carton: Jane: where in the book to you find the signs of dyfunctional? In what ways is the osn not an ordinarly boy, teenager, adult? The mother, to me, is talking about her internal life and love of her child. She doesn’t stop him from being the crazy teenager, the messy kid – one who wouldn’t ever let a mom hug them. She loves him even when she couldn’t make contact with him. I saw her actions, more about her feelings – than literally do anything to interfere with his life. She always allowed herself those obsessive feelings at times when they could not possibily interfere with her son’s life. If the son were dysfunctional, he wouldn’t have moved out of the house. She would have literally held on. And what about his caring of her when she is old and alone. To me, as a geriatric social worker, children who do give their parents that kind of support in old age, have turned out to be quite remarkable people who feel that they had been given so much and want to give back. Most of my clients have children who run in the opposite direction.
- Jane Yolen: You want disfunctional? I’ll give you dysfunctional–and I am not alone in my assessment Most of the booksellers, authors, children’s lit teachers, and librarians I know feel the same way.1. She never can say “I love you” when the child is awake. When he is awake she calls him an animal, thinks he should be in the zoo, etc. But late at night, when he is asleep, THEN she says “love you forever.”2. Late at night when he is asleep, she crawls into his room. Every bloody night of his life! CRAWLS????? If you do not find that creepy….3. Now I have raised three children, and after the child reached a certain age, one does not go into his/her room without permission. It really is a violation. Besides, have you ever tried even WALKING across a 10-17 year old’s floor? Floor?
What floor? Unless you have an exceptionally neat child, you will meet some very odd things: old tuna fish sandwiches that have gone to argot heaven, pieces of board games, lost homework, left socks, dirty books, and I could go on. Walking is hard. CRAWLING?????
4. The child never wakes during this every-night expedition. AND the child is always there. Never sneaks out. Never stays up later than the mother. Never goes to a friend’s house–or has a friend over. Never falls asleep downstairs in front of the tv.
5. Then the mother blackmails her son when he grows up. And still infantilizes him every night by driving across town to climb into his upstairs window (this is extrapolated from the picture) and rock him. Ugh. Gives me the shudders.
Then calls him up and says “I’m old and sick and you have to take care of me.” Or words to that effect. Controlling. Laying on the guilt.
6. He runs off, leaving his (unseen) wife. We know she is around because he comes home to his own little baby daughter asleep upstairs. My guess is that she is standing in the doorway when he gets the call and stage whispers at him: “If you go over to that manipulating old bitch’s one more time, I am out of here!”
I mean, how many times can that poor wife stand the old woman crawling in her bedroom window and picking up her husband and rocking him. Sick? I should think. Unless, of course, they sleep in separate bedrooms and she, too, has had her cocoa drugged.
Am I exaggerating? Well, maybe my sense of humor does not match Bob Munch’s on this. I like some of his other work. But the reasons this one has been picked up (and is THE most popular book for “children” in America) by mothers and grandmothers makes me cringe.
- Graciela Italiano: I subscribed to childlist about a week ago and have enjoyed many of the discussions. Being that I am very busy writing my dissertation at the moment I had promised myself no to get “too involved” in the topics and just watch what others were saying (cybervoyeurism?). Anyway, my silent period is over since I have to comment on the ongoing discussion about I’ll love you forever. I could not agree more with Jane Yolen’s response to the book.I am not that much of a hugger, but I do know true intimacy in my life, In my opinion this book suffers from terminal sentimentalism in much the same way soap operas do. Since when do we judge the quality of a book by the fact the it makes us cry? I think there is a difference between a good book which touches us deeply because it has reached that core of humanity we all share through our emotions and a superficially unreflective book which appeals to our sentiments (shallow feelings). I appreciated the comments about Munsch’s other books which I will make an effort an to see now.
- Dian Maureen Borek: Hi:I have really opened up a can of worms here and I apologize I am sensing a rising level of emotion that is not constructive.However, please do not say MOST librarians because this is an unsubstantiated vague statement not supported by my experiences and I am in the profession. One other point – you might be interested to know the bulk of the sales of this book are not for children as one might expect – but rather to adults for adults. It is given as a gift. I have seen the stats on this recently, but I forget which article – check with the publisher.Enough, can we agree to disagree?
- Jane Buchanan: Jane: I was wondering when you’d weigh in on this!There was a recent article (in the New York Times Book Review?) that discussed the strong feelings people have about this book, on both sides. The author wondered whether, if the illustrations were different, the response would be different.I agree with you, Jane, on every point on this book. My New Hampshire writers group could collectively go on for hours tearing this book apart. (And frequently did.) I do think some of the issues have to do with the illustrations (some of which don’t even fit the text). And I find it appalling that it is the best selling children’s book in America.I was having a (loud) discussion with a book store owner about it a few years ago, and an older woman came into the store. “What book are you talking about?” She asked. “I think I’ll buy it.” Aarrgh!
- Russ Hunt: I absolutely agree with Jane Yolen about this book. BUT . . . as a teacher of literature, I’m presented over and over with the situation I see on this list: perfectly reasonable people, whose intelligence I must respect, think that a book I believe to be, well, repellent at best and dangerous at worst is just fine. And they often ask me, as someone whose opinion, in turn, they respect, “don’t you think [insert your least favorite title here] is a wonderful book?”I’m probably a coward. I beg off. I change the subject (“Here, have you seen _Owl Moon_? It’s a wonderful book about parental love.”) I don’t see what I can say about _Love You Forever_ that would actually be useful. Even on a list like this one I think voicing my view of _LYF_ — or the children’s books students often pick up in the supermarket — may do more harm than good; with my students I’m simply stopped cold.Anybody else have this problem?I have this problem with students who adore Stephen King.
- Michelle Lane: I think this book can be read on many levels, and everyone is going to bring their own interpretation to it. I personally like the actual message, which is “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always”. If you overanalyze it, you lose that. I think you can ruin many things by by overanalysis. Some things are just to be taken at face value, and that’s that. I am not saying this is true for all things, of course, but for this book, that’s how I approach it. I first heard it in junior high, when a teacher of mine read it to us, and said “as long as we’re living, our teacher he’d be.” Of course he didn’t sneak into our rooms at night, or anything like that, he just meant simply what he said, that he’d be our teacher for always.I don’t think there is any right or wrong interpretation, it’s a personal reaction to the book. I suppose to get the intended meaning from the author, ask the author! Maybe the real value of the book is the varied interpretations it allows. Who knows…
- Emily Carton: Jane, I do not understand why you read this book so literally and refuse to entertain the idea that the book is talking about the mother’s internal life. The book is not about what she expresses directly to her son but what she feels about him. As a mother, she certainly expresses both the unconditional love she has for him and the insanity he creates in her life. I don’t know any mother who hasn’t felt both extremes about her own children. My children understood instantly that this book was about feelings – just as they understand that fairy tales are not literal. I see the crawling of the mother as methaphor, as a wish. This is about love – not the reality of growing up. And if my husband’s mother was as loving to him as this mother was to hers and if she were old and dying, I can’t imagine that I would object to his leaving to rock her. I once had a client-daughter who took care of her dying mother and her response to me when I said what she was doing was amazing was “my mother wiped my butt when I was helpless, now I will do it for her.” I really can’t understand the level of intense anger – nearly rage that a book about loving – a metaphor about the possibilities of intense love and exhasperation that a child bring into one’s life could create. My children’s teacher’s loved it – the class loved it. They knew that even while the mother was saying look at this zoo – her feeling for her son was only one of love. I’ve said to my children theirs rooms are trash dumps etc. etc.. I have said all kinds of things to them that I’d never thought I would say, but feel normal after having said them. The book, in my mind was never about her talking to him. It is about her internal life. If you want to read more into it, then I would say even if she didn’t articulate I love you directly obviously the son knew. He cradles his own daughter the way she cradled him. In my own heart, I wish, I could crawl into my children’s room and watch them sleep as they did as babies – it is the re-creation of the loviest of memories. To me, there in not one shred of hate in that book. When she calls and says I am old and sick she is telling him the truth. To me ,she is saying come now, for it is going to be over soon. He goes to her but returns home to the next generation. I saw no guilt. Just honesty. Never in the book did she ask anything more of him. Why when most children’s books are interpreted methaphorically, or filled with fantasy, is this book views in the most literal of terms?
- Elizabeth H Wiley: Thank you Russ Hunt and Jane Yolen. I like the solution of OWL MOON. I am amazed that anyone needs this sort of appalling, artless, slop to illustrate love of a child. Since Mr. Munsch is capable of better, I really wish he would retract this book and do another. Obviously the public is not capable of insisting upon it.Sat, 1 Apr 1995, Jane BuchananYes, Beth, I agree too. I think one of the biggest issues for some of us is, there are other books that do “the love thing” so much better.
- Michael Levy: How do you deal with students who think Love You Forever is wonderful? I seem to be faced with this problem at least once per semester. Just yesterday, when my Early Childhood Education majors were supposed to bring in an excel- lent example of Contemporary Realistic Fiction, two of them brought in LYF. Totally aside from the question of whether or not it’s a good book, one wonders what kind of home they came from if they think it’s realistic!
Anyway, what I tell them is the truth. That it’s a controversial book. That the world is divided into two kinds of people–those who hate LYF and those who love it. I explain why it’s hated and, to the best of my ability, why it’s liked. I make it clear that there are two sides to the question, but I then tellthem that I’m one of the people that hate it.
I use basically the same approach for The Rainbow Fish, The Giving Tree, and a few other books.
Are there any other books that people tend have this kind of radically differentfeeling about?
- Emily Carton: Jane, By calling it “the love thing,” sounds very cynical about books that deal with love. I am only saying this because it weakens your intended message, which, although I don’t agree with was presently very strongly.
- Shahnaz C Saad: Hello!I think the person who pointed out that _Love You Forever_ is *not* realistic fiction raised an excellent point. Obviously, it’s highly unlikely that a mother would creep into her grown son’s bedroom to rock him and sing him a lullaby. I think it’s a humorous book about a mother’s love for her son, not a book about things that did or could really happen. The total unreality of the situation is part of the book’s charm, and I enjoy the fact that the book acknowledges that we can love our family members even when they are driving us crazy. I could go on, but I’ll stop now…
- Jane Yolen: Be aware that there are two Janes posting–Jane Buchanan (who said the”love thing”) and Jane Yolen (who did not.)Both Janes however dislike LOVE YOU FOREVER.I have no problem with the message that parents love their children forever. And like them. (Though not always!) My problem is with the presentation of the message. And even Munsch thought this a funny book and is puzzled by its success. I also heard–gossip, gossip–that when the book became such a phenom, the publisher wanted to use a different illustrator and Munsch refused, feeling that the illustrator deserved to be as much a part of it as he.That being said, I have to tell you that when I was teaching children’s lit, I would tell my students (this is pre LOVE YOU FOREVER days) that during the course of the semester, I was probably going to step on some of their most favorite books. But I would tell them why. And if they still loved that book–and could defend it with the critical tools I hoped they developed from the course–I had no problem with that. After all, not everyone liks ALICE IN WONDERLAND or PRIDE & PREJUDICE or REMEBRANCES OF THINGS PAST. (I only like one of the three!)
The books I would then step on were THE GIVING TREE and THE VELVETEEN RABBIT which–of course–always brought gasps of dismay from some of the students.
- elaine ostry: Hello:Leaving the merits of Munsch aside, I’d just like to say that schlock goes down very well, in my experience, with small children. Children need to hear explicitly from their parents and other loved ones that they are loved; they havne’t built up that ego (that is hopefully confidence and unfortunately can be cynicism insted) that adults have to deal with their feelings of vulnerability.I bring this up because this discussion reminded me of an incredibly sappy book called Wishes that my Dad used to read to me when I was very young (I can just barely remember this). He always ended by extemporizing–‘what do you wish for?’ and ‘here’s what I wish for you-” It was a very important ritual though the book itself is nothing much. Maybe that’s one reason I Love You Forever is so popular: it gives parents a chance to, through the story, be loving to their kids.
- Bonita Kale: I don’t see how you can argue about LYF. It seems to be a pure gut reaction, either way. I picked it up in a bookstore and nearly barfed, I loathed it so much– and this was without considering it deeply, without even thinking about whether the family was dysfunctional or anything. Just instant revulsion. Other people seem to have the opposite idea.On the other hand, when The Rainbow Fish came in to the children’s room, my reaction was “ho hum”, and I’m surprised that anyone would care enough one way or another to argue about it. Just a gimmick book, I thought, with cute little holographic scales. Boring. I suppose you could make a message out of it, besides the sharing message, but I wouldn’t care enough to try.Different strokes…
- Sharyn November: Didn’t we have this same discussion weeks ago? Can we please move on? I for one would rather discuss, for example, various portrayals of the elderly — LOOP THE LOOP and MEMORY and so forth.But, for the record, I think LOVE YOU FOREVER is disturbing, and the art is horrendous. On an intellectual level I understand why people respond to it, but my visceral response is very different. Children have enough problems with privacy — can you imagine believing that one’s mother will sneak into one’s room until one is 40? (I showed the book to my mother and she said, “OK, I won’t drive across town at 4 AM and spy on your brother.” He was very relieved, and thanked me. So did his girlfriend.)
- Monica R. Edinger: I teach fourth grade and first came across LYF when a student brought it to school to read at the end of the day. The child read it aloud beautifully and my class was totally mesmerized. I was nonplussed at the time, really didn’t know what to think. Several months ago LYF was thoroughly dissected here on CHILDLIT and I started think harder about it and pretty much have to say I do find it creepy, but I find “Peter Pan” creepy too with all that weird mother stuff. (Oops, any great Barrie fans out there whom I have offended? I do admit to a nostalgic love of the old Mary Martin teleplay, but there you have the Indian problem.)Still I agree with Russ that as role models we have to be very careful in how we give our opinions about such beloved books. If a student presses me for an opinion I will say that it isn’t my favorite and leave it at that. It is like “The Bridges of Madison County.” I stay pretty quiet on that one too with people who would be terribly hurt if I was too honest. I want students/colleagues/friends/relatives to continue to listen to me and feel that I will listen to them. Giving a forceful negative opinion on books like these has the potential of breaking down hard won relationships of respect.
- Masha K. Rudman: Dear Mike and all,I agree with the three you’ve chosen (especially LYF and The Giving Tree). I don’t think that the Rainbow Fish has the quality of writing of the other two to capture readers and entrap them in the (I hope) unintentional messages. But my all time favorite book to hate and worry about in terms of its negative impact is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and, in fact, most of Roald Dahl’s books). When the quality of writing is high, and the fantasy is enticing, then the message gets deep into the reader and it is difficult to sort it out, and even realize that it is being internalized.
- Beverly Clark: Like Russ, Karla, and Mike, I too have trouble communicating my concerns to students about works that some of them love. I like the approach Mike describes. I’ve also tried getting students to compare two older books, one of which conveys a treacly view of childhood, the other of which does not. An advantage of this approach is that students are unlikely to have encountered the works before–and therefore unlikely to bring in strongly held pre-existing feelings about it. I’m afraid I can’t remember the secondary source that sparked the idea for comparing the two works, but the two are Joan Walsh Anglund’s A FRIEND IS SOMEONE WHO LIKES YOU (full of abstractions, treacly sentiment, cutesie-poo illustrations) and Ruth Krauss’s A HOLE IS TO DIG (illus. Sendak). I get students to discuss the two in small groups the first day of class–and maybe it helps that it’s the first day of class–our discussion orients students to some of my concerns (e.g., our cultural constructions of childhood) early.I’m tempted to think that sentimentalization of childhood may be a special temptation for those who are the age of traditional college students–it becomes a way of separating oneself from childhood perhaps. I know that when I was in college I was entranced by one such pseudo-children’s book (with a title something like I LOVE YOU BECAUSE YOU FEEL SO NICE)–and I admit as much to students that first day of class. I was rather shocked, too, when a professor I admired bemoaned the cult of THE LITTLE PRINCE; I’m not so shocked now.
- Naomi J. Wood: Having participated in LYF discussions before, I thought I’d put my $.02 in here.My students frequently choose LYF to present to the class, and one of the most useful things one of them did was to do an audience survey of the book by reading it to different age groups, genders, etc. One of the things I found most interesting about this student’s findings (her surveyed group was her own family, from age 5 to age 85), was that young children found LYF humorous, her boyfriend found it stupid, and most of the adults in her family found it emotionally satisfying. Personally, the book gives me the creeps, but that may be because I find that kind of expression of love invasive–the kind of love that controls by insisting on its inviolability. The mother in the story seems so abject–groveling, crawling, invasive. . . . And I’m very curious about why it is that the son has to give this love to the next generation in the form of a daughter–it seems to make the whole question of love bizarrely heterosexist, as if same-sex parents can’t love their children that way.In another audience survey done by another student on *The Paperbag Princess*, she found that the 5-year-olds she read it to were outraged by the violation of the formula (when the princess doesn’t marry the prince) while fourth graders loved it, having been around long enough to get bored with the formula. Maybe Munsch can’t be assumed to say the same thing to everyone (even more than most authors).
- Jane Yolen: Monica–in fact there is a lot of creepy mother stuff in Peter Pan, but that is the point. IF you read the original and then PETER PAN IN KENSINGTON GARDENS where Peter goes back home and the windows are closed to him and he looks in and there is his mother with a new little baby you will see Barrie playing out the whole mothering scene. I remember sobbing and sobbing at that as a child.The Peter Pan books are very autobiographical, I understand. But it has been years since I read them–and I haven’t read much on Barrie’s actual life. He was Very Victorian, however.
- elizabeth ashley haigler: A opinion is what a an individual believes personally. If a student happens to like the book then that should be fine. Our own opinions are what make us individuals and inturn stronger people. If we all conform to what other people think then we might as well live the “sameness” as in The Giver. You deal with students who like the book by asking them why, maybe they can give you insight as to why it is a good book. Words in books are to be interperted into your own thoughts in your own head. Thats how we look at poetry; Whats the author trying to say?. Maybe I’m wrong in some peoples eyes BUT this is MY opinion!!!!!!!!!
- Beth Rost: enjoyed the book. In talking about a dysfunctional family, does anyone know the real definition of what a dysfunctional family is? I think in some ways we dig to deep for negative connontations in books. Rather than just enjoy them as children do, we look for the “bad”. Robert Munsch is a wonderful children’s author. If he were to do the same types of stories over and over, we would be getting on him for that too.
Unfortunately, through the media we have been taught if love goes too far as some of you think went on in I’ll Love you Forever, something is wrong! I believe it is about a mother who loves her child a lot. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Kaia Wood: Elaine Ostray pointed out that children need to hear directly that they are loved because they lack confidence (I am paraphrasing). I think this is exactly part of the point made previously that the mother DOESN’t directly tell her child that she loves him. Yes, perhaps the children get the message anyway because they hear her singing, but theoretically the son in the book does not hear her singing. Also, what message is this sending in terms of love: conditional, or unconditional? If her love were truly unconditional she wouldn’t be so careless with her negative comments during the day. It seems to me she’s saying not only to her own son but to all children who hear the story that children are loveable only when they are quiet and at rest. I can see both sides presented here, but I think, like others, that this book isn’t of a high enough quality to gamble with the hidden messages it may give children. If adults like it, fine let them read it secretly every night and stay out of their childrens bedrooms!
- Emily Carton
I don’t have the same problems with LYF, but seeing the controversy has made me choose it for a class that I am teaching with seniors who will look out and review children’s books that depict aging. It will be interesting to get their perspective on it and I am sure will provoke some heated debate. I too, did not like the Bridges of Madison Country, don’t talk about it, but completely understand how, like Hollywood romance movies, which it will soon be, offers a great escape for people who feel like passion lies outside their life in some archtypal image. I see LYF as the same. Honestly, as a social worker, teacher, I don’t understand what harm it does. While it may not be great literature, I think the feelings of the mother, although highly exaggerated and not to be taken literally, are quite fair to what one feels, might wish (in a symbolic sense) but hopefully would never do. The children who I have known who have read, never once thought that the story was a fact, but just as much a fantasy as other books they have read. I’ll let you know next fall – if you all are not too sick of hearing about it – how the seniors, who are a retired group of professionals from all cornors viewed the book. Jane Yolen – thanks for clearing up the “love thing,” and who sent it. It was offended by the cyncism of it. Was anyone else? Or has this whole topic of LYF just touched a nerve – either positive or negative in all of us. I must say, there is something to be said for the book – that much is obvious. Cheers to everyone who has taken the debate and run with it.
- Emily Carton: Maybe it is important to look out what the children who find the books satisfying are receiving from the book. And then those of who are writers, can perhaps do it better. I think the adults are over anaylzing – which we often do – into these books and projecting our own images of what we like or don’t like or what we want or don’t want from our own mother’s or our parenting. The children who this book seems to be aimed for, perhaps get the kind of comfort they need to have the repetition and the mother’s love over and over again. I have seen so many children hold onto that book like they do to teddy bears. Eventually, they give them up too.4 Apr 1995, Cynthia Stilleywhat is happening here is that the Munsch book is illustrating an emotion (love, particularly a Mother’s love) in such an abbreviated manner that the aspect of character development is totally ignored. Therefore, we see a raw, selfless, groveling and yes, impaired (read dysfunctional) individual. She seems to have no other life. She is out of context. And that is why the story gives some of us the creeps.
- Jo-Ann Woolverton: I was very surprised when I joined this list to find a heated discussion of one of the books written by a favorite author. As a Canadian I guess I am very protective of our writers. Robert Munsch’s books range from the down right weird (Pigs) to ground breaking (Paper Bag Princess – one of the first in the current explosion of fractured fairy tales). Here in Canada his regulat publisher did not want to publish LYF because it did not have the humor that is always so prominent in his earlier works. Another publisher picked it up and I think we are the luckier for it.Please don’t take this as a blanket approval of all of his books. There are some which I have trouble with. They include “Good families don’t” and his newest, here in Canada, “Where is Gah-Ning?”
- Beth Rost: I think we are digging a little deep into the story I’ll Love you Forever. It’s a simple story about a mother who adores and loves her son a lot. I think since our society has changed so much so have our attitudes so we expect and look for the worst when a mother does so much for her family. Before we can call it a dysfunctional family, I believe we must define dysfunctional. Just my opinion!
- Jane Yolen: I think the problem with LOVE YOU FOREVER is that we don’t dig into it enough! In fact most of us (and I include myself in this) tend to read superficially and to not understand hidden meanings at all. Or if we do, we make easy equations–ie a book with a dragon is satanic, a book with an ecological message is New Age, etc.And I also think it is possible for well-meaning people to disagree on a book without being taken to task for dissecting it.
- June Cummins Lewis: I agree that defining one’s terms is always helpful, but I must voice my concern about the suggestion to close off attempts at digging. First of all, I think it’s almost impossible ever to dig too deep when it comes to figuring out underlying messages of stories, particularly for children. It’s true that deep digging can get carried away, but some digging is almost always in order. Literature cannot exist in a vacuum; it always exists in a cultural context, and this is especially true when we read to children. But this is not my main point. My second point is that this book *especially* cries out to be discussed. The pictures are so strange, and the concepts so important that it behooves all readers to try to construct some meaning that may not be obviously presented in the text. Like others, I felt revulsion upon first reading this book, but I know many people who love it. When I have a reaction like that, I feel compelled to figure out why. And if my reaction were merely that I liked it, I still would want to know what was satisfying about the story. (Since I found the story so unsatisfying, my urge to pick it apart is even greater, I admit!) Anyway, the point of this diatribe is to offer the opinion that almost all books warrant some deep thinking, and this book, particularly, needs to be discussed and thought about.
- Kathleen Jo Powell Hannah: Hear, hear! Aren’t we *here* to discuss books? Respecting others’ opinions is great, but refusing to analyze things in depth, because “it’s just everyone’s opinion,” is, well, for tabloid TV.
- Dian Maureen Borek: Hi:I am now enjoying reading all the comments about love you forever. Since we got rid of the !!!!! and generalizations and accusations the discussion has become much more thought provoking. I have suggested putting it on the course list for a children’s course this summer since it seems to ignite so much controversy. As children’s librarians it helps to know and learn to be very cautious about reader’s advisory. I am always afraid of reccommending reading material for children, young mothers etc that could potentially be offensive.
- Alice Naylor: I feel there is a difference between THE GIVING TREE, RAINBOW FISH, AND ILYF. Rainfish is a translation and the language is pretty ordinary, the plot pretty flat (as well as objectionable). LYF is not successful as a fantasy because the reader laughs — it is a strange combination of sentiment and ridiculousness. However, I think the QUALITY of THE GIVING TREE is high. I wanted to throw up when I first read it, but proably still do. But the quality of the book is unquestionable. Another one like that is THE FRIENDS OF EMILY CULPEPPER. I think it is out of print, but I use it in workshops becuse it gets everyone riled up. Its a Philomel book — the author escapes me at the moment — its Australian.
- Barbara McGinn: I don’t know about anyone else but I am getting sick of the Love You Forever discussion. However, I’ve held back throughout this discussion and just can’t resist bringing up again something that I think has only been mentioned once. Aside from the writing, the theme, the interpretation etc., the illustrations alone are worth rejecting the book. It would take a pretty special children’s picture book to get beyond the garish illustrations (garish at best) and certainly Love You Forever doesn’t fit that category.
- Perry Nodelman: O.K., so let’s see if I’ve got this straight:1. The reason those of us who are given the creeps by Love You Forever are being given those creeps by it is that we are reading it too literally. It’s a metaphor. It’s not really about a devouring mother who sneaks into her teenage son’s bedroom at night to adore him in secret. The devouring mother, the bedroom, and the son all stand for something else–something far more mystical and profound and innocuous. We creeped-out reader should stop paying so much attention and noticing so much; if we would learn how to read less carefully, we would enjoy the book more. We should lighten up. We should stop thinking. Thinking is bad for us.2. Or, alternately: the reason those of us who are given the creeps by Love You Forever are being given those creeps by it is that we are over-analyzing it. We are not reading it literally enough. It’s just a story, for gosh sake. We creeped-out readers should lighten up. We should stop thinking. Thinking is bad for us.So, which is it? Too literal, or too un-literal? I’m confused.
But despite their contradictory nature, these positions have much in common, Both plead for less awareness and less thoughtfulness. Both are profoundly anti-intellectual, and profoundly anti-educational. In the context of this list, serving people with a professional interest in putting children into contact with literature, I find them both profoundly disturbing.
Or is it just that I am thinking too much about them?
This following part was saved from a previous thread re: Love You Forever.
- Sharyn Novemberon 1/12, Bonita Kale wrote that “LOVE YOU FOREVER” came close to making her physically ill. Rest assured, you are not alone! Many people — including me — have had the same reaction.Here’s my take — there is something extremely creepy about this mother/son relationship. I can understand her singing to her young son, but once he gets older, it borders on the truly bizarre. Sneaking into his room? Driving to his house? It gave me the creeps, as did the picture in which the son holds the shrunken mother. One wonders what his wife thinks of all this (unless she does it with her father).In a joking moment I called the book “every Jewish son’s nightmare.” (As a Jew, I felt I could get away with this.) I don’t think of it as reassuring at all. There’s something unsettling about it — to say the least!
- Jim MaroonWelll… I’m going to go against the grain here just a bit. When I first heard this story, it was told by a very gifted resource teacher who had decent presentation ability. Her love for it really came through. After her passionate presentation, I literally had goosebumps.Much later, I finally found a copy for myself. At first each time I read it, my mind read ith through her voice, but I was instantly disappointed with the pictures. I still liked it a great deal. I have grown to dislike it a bit, and I’m not sure why. Was it the pictures? Is it peer pressure? Or was it this teachers love for it that really showed through?My storytelling teacher, Bob Jenkins, once told me, “A good story can get through a bad telling better than a bad story can get through a good telling”. Maybe sometimes even a bad story can shine in the hands of a gifted teller? Or maybe there is something to this story we may be missing?
- Bonita Kale”Enough already about Love You Forever. I heard Robert Munsch speak several years ago about his books, Love You Forever being one of them. He wrote the book as a children’s story. He added that the children to whom he had shared the book found it very funny.”Wow! A whole new take! Does that mean all that stuff about Mom driving across town and cuddling her “baby” was supposed to be -funny-? And it should have had James Marshall kind of illos, as if it were a book in the Stupids series,–“The Stupids Love Their Children”, perhaps?
- Shahnaz C SaadHello! I have been reading the _Love You Forever_ commentary bemusedly, and I have decided to put in my 2 cents worth…The fact, is I did find the book funny as well as warm and rather sweet. This little old lady rocking her 40-year-old son *is* funny, especially to small children, who like the absurdity of it. And on a different level, I think it’s reassuring to many people of all ages that parental love doesn’t end when one hits a certain age or size.
- Thomas B SmithTrue confessions: I kinda like _Love You Forever_; in fact, I’ve actually purchased it as a gift for new parents (a practice I stopped when some of them reacted as negatively as the members of this list! Oh, well…)In the middle of all this list discussion, I attended a child development seminar at which the speaker actually read LYF to about 200 early childhood professionals, had them chanting “back and forth” and singing the little song and everything. In the light of all your comments, I found the whole spectacle rather pathetic, somehow…but y’know, I still DO like the book!I’m mostly surprised by the fact that so many people insist on taking the thing so LITERALLY — it’s obvious to me that the mom driving through the night with the ladder on her car is meant to SYMBOLIZE her continuing feelings of connectedness to her child. Karen Traynor is on the right track when she says that she “interpreted that part of the story as a way of showing that love continues in a family no matter how old we get. . .”
This interpretation raises larger questions about the book’s appropriateness for literal-minded young children — but it’s SO silly, I think they mostly get the message.
- Karen also stated that: “I get tears in my eyes every time I read it.” which happens to me, too. Even during that silly seminar! Maybe (probably) the book is mawkish and blatantly manipulative, but for some of us at least, this strange little volume really offers a glimpse of the turning wheel of life.