Friday, June 14, 2013

Love You Forever

Recently, an online acquaintance (not from the ALI community) posted on Facebook about reading the book "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch to her child, at the child's request -- & commented what a "creepy" book it was.

(The story follows a mother & son through the years, starting with the mother singing a lullaby "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always..." to her son as a baby. What most people find "creepy" about the book is that she continues to do so as he grows into adulthood, including driving to his house & sneaking into his bedroom at night to rock him & sing him the lullaby. Haven't they ever heard of comic exaggeration??) 

Several commenters chimed in that they too thought it was a "creepy" tale.

I had to bite my cybertongue to keep from responding, from asking if they were aware of the story behind the story. Because I am sure that some if not all of them would have thought THAT was pretty "creepy" too.  :p 

The incident has continued to rankle, though, and that's why I am posting about it here. It also made me realize that I have never (I don't think?) written a post on this subject... so here it is.  

I know "Love You Forever" is a book that people tend to either love or hate. (It is the author's best selling book, and also the most controversial.)  Count me among the fans, and for a very special reason.

You might wonder why I, the childless infertile bereaved mother, would be a fan of a children's book & author. I was long past childhood by the time Robert Munsch began publishing his stories in the early 1980s. The first book of his that I remember hearing about & then reading was "The Paper Bag Princess."  It tickled my feminist fancy ; ) and I've bought it for many little girls since then as a refreshing antidote to the Disney Princess cr*p that's out there.

I don't remember how I learned the story behind the story of "Love You Forever."  It was certainly after Katie's stillbirth, but possibly before I heard the story told -- and heard Munsch sing the "Love You Forever" song -- in a CBC TV Life & Times episode in 2001. 

Robert Munsch is a complex and fascinating man. He's an American who has lived in Canada for almost 40 years.

He studied to be a Jesuit priest, and began working with children in orphanages & daycare centres -- which is how he started storytelling and, eventually, turning those stories into books. 

He has struggled with manic depression and addiction, and is still recovering from a stroke he had a few years ago. 

And he is the father of two stillborn babies, Sam and Gilly, born in 1979 and 1980 -- and three multiracial adopted children (now adults).

"Love You Forever" was written as a love song to his lost children.

As Munsch explains on his website: 
Love You Forever started as a song.

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”

I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing.

For a long time it was just a song but one day, while telling stories at a big theatre at the University of Guelph, it occurred to me that I might be able to make a story around the song.

Out popped Love You Forever, pretty much the way it is in the book.
A year or two after we saw the CBC Life & Times episode, dh & I saw Munsch onstage at Word on the Street in Toronto, a street festival held every fall to celebrate books and literacy. 

He told several stories -- including "Aaron's Hair," which was, I think, his newest book at the time. Most of the kids featured in Munsch's books are based on real-life kids and their stories, and Munsch will often tell the story hundreds of times before it gets published in book form. The real Aaron, now a young man in his 20s, appeared onstage with him.

And then, he launched into "Love You Forever." Munsch is an incredibly animated storyteller.  He used Aaron as a prop/baby, rocking him back & forth, back & forth as he told the story. It was hilarious & touching and wonderful. The children loved it.

As the story ended, & I wiped my eyes (and noticed all the parents around us wiping theirs), dh turned to me with a smile, "Let's go," he said, "Nothing can top that." And so we left.

It's still a wonderful memory.

Have you read "Love You Forever?"  Creepy or heartwarming or something in between? Did you know the story behind the story? Does that knowledge change your perception of the book?


  1. I haven't read it - mainly because I start sobbing by page 2 1/2 :) Crap, I'm crying now just THINKING about reading the book. But I'm on the fan side - I figure one day I'll be able to get all the way through it.

  2. This makes me love the book. I've felt sort of indifferent about it, honestly, and while we have it, it's not one I read often to Zuzu. (Maybe because it's hard for me to get through without crying.)

    To people who are creeped out, I say, "Dude, it's a metaphor."

  3. When I found out I was pregnant in 2008 it was one of the first books I bought. When we FINALLY became parents in 2011 it was the FIRST book I pulled out from the dusty box to be put on our sons library shelf.

    I never knew the story behind the story, so I thank you for sharing.

  4. I'm a fan of the book, and read it frequently to my oldest. But my youngest couldn't bear it- she was only 2- 3 years old and thought it was so sad she would cry everytime I pulled the book off the shelf.

    Thanks for the story about the song & book. Amazing.

  5. I've always loved that story and now I love it even more knowing the story behind it.

    THANKS for sharing!

  6. I've always liked it, but did not know the story!

    Puff the Magic Dragon makes me cry;)

  7. I have been on the 'creepy' side of the book although we received 2 copies of it as gifts. I wouldn't avoid reading it if the kids chose that book, but I wouldn't choose it myself.

    Knowing the story behind it makes a difference to me. I'll be able to see it differently, and may even pull it off the shelf to read myself. I know many people who love the story even without the back story, but - well - I wasn't one of them ....

    Thanks for posting this.

  8. Never heard of the story, went to the link and listened to the story. The author's photo shows how funny he is he he...

    Dunno what to say about the story, though...never really grew up with these kinds of children's books (my mom did read lots of stories for me but not these kinds - it's a whole different thing back then in Indo). Anyway, when listening to the story, in some parts I got chills, but I suppose what made me a bit surprised was the feeling of "Oh, of course, it just has to end like that" when I found out that the son has just got a daughter...

  9. I haven't read the book, although I have heard about it. I don't fall into the "creepy" camp. Thank you for sharing the story behind it.

  10. Tears just from reading your post.
    Had not heard of the book or author my side of the ocean though.
    O wow, just clicked over to his website, and listened to the story, and him singing the song over and over again. 'incredibly animated storyteller' indeed.
    Thank you

    ps password is 'inspiring'

  11. Brooke shared this blog with me and I'm so glad. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely story. I've always loved the book as my mom read it to us growing up. When I got pregnant with my son (who was stillborn in 2010) it was the first book I bought him. We have since had another baby and have received two copies of it. :)

  12. I had no idea that there even was a story behind the story. Truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing it!

  13. Wow, Loribeth, I had no idea about the story behind the story. I have always felt an affinity to the story though I also know lots who are 'creeped out' by it, so I stopped gifting it many years ago.

    I knew Robert Munsch, as an acquaintance, through his most prolific years of story writing and have always been a fan.

    Now I understand why it still tugs at me, despite the controversy surrounding it.


  14. I didn't like the book at all when we received it as a gift and I first read it to the girls. (The climbing into the grown son's window -- with a twin bed and clamp-on light, 1980s dorm style, LOL -- bothered me.) That was a few years ago. Now it is one of our favorites. I know when the girls ask for it, they just need a little extra cuddling and reassurance that night. And if I've had a bad day, I will reach for it, too. I can't help crying, but that's not always a bad thing.

    At the preschool end-of-year ceremony, I noticed that quite a few kids had listed "Love You Forever" as a favorite book.

    I didn't know the backstory. Wow.

    I also haven't heard the author's recording of the song. I'll have to click on it later. I made up my own melody, but it could stand some improvement. : )

  15. I've never read it, or even knew what the story was until tonight, but I've often thought about my miscarried baby and how she could be growing up in an alternate universe. I like the idea of being able to visit her and love her for short periods of times in her alternate world. It's a wonderful thought.