LOVE YOU FOREVER: By Robert Munsch Illustrated by Sheila McGraw
LOVE YOU FOREVER: By Robert Munsch Illustrated by Sheila McGraw
Munsch, R. (1986). Love You Forever. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books (U.S.) Inc.
Love You Forever is the story of a mother who sees the various stages of her son's life, from his time as a newborn to ages two, nine, a teenager (no specific age is given), and as the book describes, "a grown-up man". Throughout his life, his mother would pick him up and rock him, "back and forth, back and forth", singing to him this refrain:
I'll love you forever,
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
my baby you'll be.
Eventually, the mother becomes too old to go to her son and rock him 'back and forth, back and forth', and the son goes to her and rocks her 'back and forth, back and forth', singing the song to her, substituting "Mommy" for "baby". In the end, the man goes to his new baby daughter and does the same: rocking her "back and forth, back and forth", he now sings her the same song.
Since Love You Forever uses a mother and son, I will use those pronouns for the descriptions.
Love You Forever is meant to evoke powerful emotions about being a parent and/or being a child. The message is very clear: a mother's love is eternal, and no matter how old her son gets, the mother will always see him as a little boy. It also strikes an emotional note if the reader is a child (adult or literal): we will love our mothers and be thankful and grateful for all they have done.
Since Love You Forever is a story that strikes a very strong emotional core, only the most cynical tend to focus not on the emotion of the story, but on the logic. If we took Love You Forever literally, we would be horrified that a woman would appear to be almost obsessed with her son. This is a relationship that comes dangerously close to entering Norma/Norman Bates territory.
It is perfectly natural, even expected, to cradle a newborn and/or a two-year-old to sleep with a lovely lullaby. However, as the boy "grew and grew" it soon appears to take a bizarre turn. The mother sneaks into her son's room when he's nine and rocks a teenager the same way she did when he was a newborn. At this point, if we look at it from an adult's perspective, it would seem nutty to imagine any mother (let alone our own) cradling a fourteen to maybe sixteen year old.
And this isn't even wondering how she would have the physical strength to lift said fourteen to sixteen year old, let alone do it without waking him up.
However, once he leaves home, Love You Forever appears to go off the deep end when it has the mother drive across town, at night, with a ladder, to essentially break into her grown son's home by climbing through a second-floor window (either left conveniently open or one the mother managed to unlock) and rock a grown man repeating the same thing she did when he was a toddler.
One thing I thought about at the end is when the roles are reversed and the son rocks his mother at the end. Is the message of Love You Forever the idea that the child is somehow beholden to his parent once the parent is too elderly to basically baby her son?
I now many people who find Love You Forever rather creepy, and others who find it extremely moving and emotional. My take is that we are not meant to look at it literally. Most children's stories are meant to be more symbolic and simple. There are two audiences for Love You Forever: the child (whom I figure would be a toddler) and the still-new parent.
A child is not going to think about the oddity of a woman probably in her fifties (if the mother is in her twenties when the son was born) going into a grown man's home in the middle of the night. To a child, such thoughts I think would not enter their minds. Remember, children at this stage don't question the logic of Santa Claus: how a man can fly through the world in one night and pop in and out of the house unnoticed despite his girth and flying reindeer landing on their roofs (or getting in without having a chimney). Really small children take things at face value, and they would not find it odd that a mother would 'love their child forever'. I think at that age, a child would want reinforcement that they will be protected and loved, two things they need to develop into functioning adults.
A new parent, in return, I think would be enthralled with the experience of having a child to love, and though they know that they will see the various stages of their child's development (even some of the negative ones, like the nine-year-old using "bad words" when Grandma comes over), the parent will truly love their child 'forever' and will in some respects always be their 'baby'. Far be it for me to take that away from any parent.
For me, I find Love You Forever at times moving, at times shocking. The cover does remind me of me, of all the chaos I must have given to my own mother as a child (though in my defense, I never went through any kind of rebellious stage). It does evoke a tenderness thinking of all that my mom did for me growing up, all the sacrifices she made to provide, and the genuine love and affection I have for her. However, looking at it with more seasoned eyes, I would find the mother's actions a bit bonkers. Calling me in the middle of the night is one thing, but carrying a ladder to climb up the window and rock me when I'm already asleep is I think insane.
My mother loves Love You Forever, (as do many mothers I've spoken to) but I'm sure even she would concede that would be going way too far. Then again, my argument about Love You Forever is that it is meant to be symbolic and not taken literally. The message that Love You Forever is communicating is that a parent's love never ends regardless of how old the child gets. If that is what one gets from it, then the book I think is a success.
BRIEF REVIEW DISCUSSION
Andre Gagnon, in the review for Love You Forever, felt that the story became too ridiculous as it went along. "Love You Forever is sentimentality at its worst. This is not a children's story, but one that will appeal to adults who have experienced a feeling of loss as their children grow older. Munsch should go back to what he does best." I can see how this is possible. Gagnon detested Love You Forever, feeling that it was a mistake to make it a picture book. I can see how this interpretation is possible, but I will always argue that the adult readers should see Love You Forever as allegory, not realistic.
In terms of library use, Love You Forever may work for Baby Lapsit Storytimes, for they are targeted towards newborn and their parents. It might also be used in a group that deals with parents with teen children gone off to college. A library could offer a 'support group' for those entering Empty Nest Syndrome. We could also expand it to create groups dealing with separation of parents and children. I'm reluctant to offer suggestion to those who have lost children, but the possibility is there.
Gagnon, A. (1987). Love You Forever Book Review. CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People. Vol. 15, Number 2. Retrieved from http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/cmarchive/vol15no2/loveyouforever.html