Are you a parent? Do you remember holding that newborn baby in your arms in those first few minutes, and knowing that you could never love another creature more than you love this tiny, helpless infant at this moment? Do you remember thinking "I'll love you forever?"
Thing is, that tiny, mewling baby grows up, into a bigger, messy, complaining, cheeky toddler, child and teenage. And yet...you go into the bedroom to give that sticky, sleeping face a kiss, and those feelings you had in those first few hours and days come rushing back, and you know you will love that child until the day you die - even if you can't always say so to that screaming monster.
I'll Love You Forever is all about those feelings - that intense frustration along with the deep, abiding love. It is a picture book, ostensibly aimed at (say) ages 3 - 5, but it still brings a tear to my eye.
It is a picture book (and please note, there are TWO editions available - the one I have, with illustrations by Sheila McGraw, shown above, and another one illustrated by Anthony Lewis - the story is the same in both, though the pictures are obviously different. For the avoidance of doubt, I am reviewing the Sheila McGraw edition), but with beautifully written text, crying out to be read aloud.
As her son is born, the mother sings "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be". As he grows up into a screaming two year old, a boisterous nine year old, a fractious loud teenager, and an independent adult, she creeps into his room, when she is sure he is asleep and sings "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, my baby you'll be." Eventually, mum grows old, and now it's down to the son to comfort his mother...and full circle, he has a daughter of his own, and sings in the dark of the night, when he's sure she's asleep, "I'll love you forever..."
So far, so good. This is a lovely book with beautiful prose that poignantly explains to a child that no matter how angry mummy or daddy seem, they will always love him (or her). That even when mum thinks she's in a zoo, she'll love you forever, and even like you. That no matter how grown up mum is asking you to behave, you'll always be her baby.
The illustrations are both sweet and funny. They are semi-realistic, in that they are not cartoony. They are pastels in muted colours - they are lovely and sweet.
This book apparently caused some controversy in the States when it came out. See, when the son becomes an adult and lives across town, mum puts a latter on the roof of the car, drives across town in the middle of the night, to cradle her grown-man son and sing. Some folks objected to this, saying it was 'sick' or 'twisted' or 'perverted.' By searching on Google for "Love You Forever Munsch controversy" I found this statement (amongst others - most of which, I have to say, are supportive of the book):
"I 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." (this is attributed to Jane Yolen - I wonder if it's the same Jane Yolen who is an author).
I think those people have it all wrong. It is for me an expression of love, and an affirmation that there is nothing a child can do to make its parents stop loving it. Nothing at all. Even if you behave if you belong in a zoo...Furthermore, the story is not meant to be taken literally. A mother doesn't REALLY climb in through her grown son's window - but yet he will always, in some way, be her baby. You can find statements both for and against here (as well as here on epinions - the many reviews range from highly positive to strongly negative - though very little in between): http://www.fairrosa.info/disc/loveyouforever.html (entitled "Love You Forever: Funny or Repulsive").
Munch himself discussed the book and his motivation for writing it on his own website: http://www.robertmunsch.com/books.cfm?bookid=40 - you can also listen to Munch reading the story and singing the song. I've not listened to the song (I'm writing this at work). However, keep in mind, each parent will sing or chant the song in his or her own way - and that's how it should be. Munsch says "The way I sing it in the story is just MY version. You are supposed to make up your own" It is worth quoting Munsch here from his website to show the enduring charm and power of this testament to a mother's (or parent's) love:
'"One day the publisher called up and said "This is very strange. It is selling very well in retirement communities in Arizona. It is selling in retirement communities where kids are illegal. This is supposed to be a children's book. What is going on?"
"Grownups are buying it for grownups!" In fact, it turned out that parents buy it for grandparents and grandparents buy it for parents and kids buy it for everybody and everybody buys it for kids.'
'Technical' Details and Availability
The edition I have is 32 pages and can be picked up on Amazon marketplace from 75p. The version illustrated by Anthony Lewis is available from Amazon new at £4.79 and is also 32 pages.
Looking at Amazon.com, the Sheila McGraw version is the American version and the Anthony Lewis the British, as the McGraw illustrated edition is available for $4.95 from Amazon.com. As my father purchased this book for our family, and he lived in the States, that's the edition we have (and so the edition I've reviewed and discussed).
Matty's Opinion in a nutshell
It's probably obvious by now that I love this book. Even just writing this review, my eyes slightly well up. I know exactly where this mother is coming from - my daughter is nearly 15, and she is lippy, cheeky and sometimes (read: often) rude to me and to her father. And yet, I love her more than any other living creature (shhh - don't tell my husband). Admittedly, I don't sneak into her room at night and sing to her (I think she'd find the singing more disturbing than the cuddling, frankly). I passed on many of my daughter's picture books, yet have kept a few. This is one of them.
I highly recommend this book to parents, children, aunties, uncles, grandparents - really, to anyone who has been a child or has been with a child. It is moving, touching and beautifully written and illustrated.
This book is suitable for all ages, though tinies would need it read to them, and older children would prefer it read to them, I would think, given the subject matter. In fact, one of the joys of this books is that you are likely to be reading it to your children long after they can read for themselves. It is truly a shared and sharing story.
"I'll love you forever
I'll like you for always
As long as I'm living,
My baby you'll be."
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