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What Almost Made Me Cry Today: ‘Love You Forever’

September 27th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  15 Comments

Looks so funny, doesn't it? Reader beware!

The other night, at bedtime, I sent Sasha to her “library” (what she calls her bookshelf) to select some reading material. She returned with Mercer Mayer’s “All By Myself,” a stack of idiotic Corduroy books, and a book I’d seen floating around the house but had never actually opened, “Love You Forever,” written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila MacGraw. Where had this book come from? I wondered. What’s it about?

Well, DadWagon readers, I can now reveal to you that this is the most manipulative, depressing children’s book I’ve ever come across. The conceit is that a new mother waits till her baby is asleep, then sneaks into his room, rocks him “back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” and sings to him this little ditty:

I’ll love you forever

I’ll like you for always

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be

Throughout the book, the baby gets older, growing into a 2-year-old, then a 9-year-old, then a teenager, then a grown-up man. Ha ha! There’s Mom, sneaking into her grown son’s house to rock him in his sleep! How funny!

But I knew something was up, and as both parent and child grew—and aged—it became harder and harder for me to read aloud. That line—”As long as I’m living”—was carrying with it dreadful implications that eventually became explicit: The mother is finally too old and sick to rock her son, who rushes to her nursing home to cradle her and sing the song he’s heard all his life. Then he goes home to rock his own newborn daughter and sing to her.

I read the ending in a choked whisper. Tears were rolling down my face. Sasha barely noticed. What kind of horrible book was this—so relentlessly rolling toward its bittersweet finale? How could they do this to parents, let alone children? What kind of monster are you, Robert Munsch?

After that, the bland adventures of Corduroy—look at him go fast on his scooter!—were a welcome salve.


Responses

  1. NYC Dads Group via Facebook says:

    September 27th, 2011at 9:45 am(#)

    been there

  2. Christine says:

    September 27th, 2011at 11:35 am(#)

    That was my initial reaction to that book too, but on subsequent readings it is the creepy behavior of the mother that gets me. Sneaking into the adult son’s bedroom across town? Boundaries mom.

    And for god sakes, don’t read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein!

  3. Matt says:

    September 27th, 2011at 11:38 am(#)

    Noted! No ‘Giving Tree’ in my house.

    Also, Sasha had me read it again last night, and I got through it easier. But then, after we’d turned off the lights and I was lying curled up on her bed next to her, she asked me to sing the mother’s song again—and she sang it with me. Sheesh. That book should come with a lifetime supply of hankies.

  4. Alex | Perfecting Dad says:

    September 27th, 2011at 12:29 pm(#)

    I’m with you. The last couple of pages in the book nearly brought big ol’ dad to tears. The giving tree is another sad book, as Christine said. Damn selfish people and that giving giving tree.

    I always tell my kids that I changed their diapers, hope they remember it when it’s time to change my diapers in a few decades.

  5. jzzy55 says:

    September 27th, 2011at 2:15 pm(#)

    Aw, no dissing “real” Corduroy, the ones by Don Freeman and his wife as collaborator (I’m not talking about the spin-offs produced since Freeman’s death in 1978). One of the first books to feature non-white characters without it being a book about their being non-white. Also one of the first books to feature a single mother. A book I have taught (used to be a PK teacher, among other jobs) and is universally loved by children. Precursor book to Mo Willem’s Knufflebunny (lost stuffed animal, laundromat). I worked at Viking, Freeman’s publisher, and he was a truly beloved author. When he would visit it was like fairy dust spread around the office. Really.

  6. Matt says:

    September 27th, 2011at 2:18 pm(#)

    Fair enough, Jzzy. The ones we have, though, are utterly mindless—Corduroy water-skiing on one page, riding a skateboard the next. No story, no nothing. They hurt the Corduroy brand!

  7. jzzy55 says:

    September 27th, 2011at 4:32 pm(#)

    I had just one post-Freeman Corduroy tag sale board book for my son — Corduroy Goes to the Doctor. When Corduroy gets weighed the nurse looks appalled and says, “Too many cookies, Corduroy”. This became family shorthand for “stop stuffing your face.”

    Munsch is a controversial author, although he has sold millions of books. Some librarians won’t buy them. http://pelhamlibrary.blogspot.com/2006/07/munsch-munsch-munsch.html. If you found Love You Forever creepy, you might want to read this.

    I’ll alway like Munsch for The Paper Bag Princess. This story provides a rare, welcome antidote to the princess stuff that’s so pervasive in the current little girl universe. I’ve taught this in school (early elementary) — always a huge, huge hit with great discussion points. All kids know Prince rescues Princess stories, so the way this books turns that on its head is terrific. Yeah it’s didactic, but sometimes you need that to push a discussion.

  8. Matt says:

    September 27th, 2011at 4:40 pm(#)

    Thanks for the links! I may indeed get The Paper Bag Princess for Sasha when she’s a little older. One clarification, though: I didn’t find “Love You Forever” to be creepy. In fact, the mom sneaking into her grown son’s house to rock him at night is rather cute. But the book makes me think about the fact that I’ll die, and so will everyone I know, and then I cry, so the book is evil. But not creepy.

  9. beta dad says:

    September 29th, 2011at 2:05 pm(#)

    I always thought “Love You Forever” was simply creepy. Couldn’t get past the stalky mom. “Paper Bag Princess” is pretty cool though. Our 2-yr olds love to recite the feminist mantra from the last page: “You are a BUM!”

  10. karen says:

    October 3rd, 2011at 10:55 am(#)

    Robert Munsch is a lovely man with mental illness. In Canada he became a public figure with mental illness and for that many of us parents will always be grateful.

    The man is bipolar, and had (HAD, hopefully) some serious issues with cocaine and alcohol.

    I have met him, he is charming but awkward. He is wonderful in a crowd of children, perhaps because he has not left that silly playfulness behind. I would not write these books myself, but will always appreciate my children being subjected to the looseness of his art, that things don’t always have to make logical sense to be enjoyed, that fiction can be fantastical.

    If you like representation, try his book, Where is Ganing? My kids love that one, it is a travel book for crazy little adventurers.

  11. karen says:

    October 3rd, 2011at 11:10 am(#)

    Oh, and? I LOVED Corduroy as a kid, perhaps a little bit too much. The book I loved till the front fell off was also a book my kids loved, till all the pages fell out.

    The new stuff leaves me cold, but my kids have a video that they enjoy …

  12. Matt says:

    October 3rd, 2011at 11:18 am(#)

    @Karen: That info about Munsch makes me like the guy even more. I’ll have to seek out his other books. Thanks!

  13. Olga says:

    January 8th, 2013at 11:11 pm(#)

    When my son was 8 he checked this book from the school library. We read it for a week and cried everytime. 11 years later he asked me the name of the book. 2 years later I found it and he bought it so we can cry together all over again. Wow..I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad one..lol

  14. Kellene says:

    May 17th, 2013at 6:17 pm(#)

    I read this book when my boy was a toddler. Then for his preschool graduation the kids presented the story to the parents. As the teacher read the book the kids would say the “I’ll love you forever…” part. Well, at the end of the book, of course I was crying. As I looked around, I was the only mother/parent tearing up. I thought what is wrong with these people? Haha. And now I have four kids, two of them still teenagers. We were all reading the book together and the older kids were laughing and saying how creepy the mom was and how that wouldn’t happen. But I told them that I like to think that maybe the mother wasn’t doing that physically but probably in her thoughts every night and that no matter how old your kids get (I have a 32 and 30 year old also)you always have them in your heart and mind. The ending is the part that is the tearjerker and I still can’t read the book without crying.

  15. Katie says:

    May 30th, 2013at 12:38 am(#)

    I cried when I read this book at 22. I did NOT read it to my small children, at that time, with healthy grandparents and parents, would have been morbid.

    I did give it to my mother as a gift, after she’d had a stroke and my dad and her had sold the family home and moved to FL for a few years. She’d mostly recovered, but she said, “You know I’d never follow you kids around town!” LOL! But she acknowledged that she still thought of us as her ‘babies.’

    My oldest son is getting married this weekend, I won’t be following him around either, heck haven’t since he went away to school 12 years ago. His brother and sister are already married, and I think of them every day.

    The story is more about what goes around, comes around. I’d give this to any parents whose adult children love them as much as they were loved as wee ones.

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