At first read, it’s easy to see why adults may find the beloved children’s book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch unsettling.
The devoted mother in the 32-page 1995 illustrated story often sneaks into her son’s room at night, removes him from his bed, and rocks him as she sings to him — even after he’s grown into an adult and moved out. (A simple break-and-enter using a ladder does the trick in Sheila McGraw’s cheerful drawings).
Photo: Firefly Books
But the unabashedly sentimental story of enduring love between a mother and child has nevertheless clearly captured people’s hearts. It’s a bestseller, has been named a Teachers’ Top 100 by the National Education Association, and is touted by fans including Maria Shriver, who reviewed the tale for O, The Oprah Magazine. “I have yet to read this book through without crying,” the journalist wrote in 2001. “It says so much about the circle of life, youth, parenting, and our responsibility for our parents as we grow older. The message is so simple yet so profound.”
Photo: Firefly Books
The heartbreaking true story that inspired the book, though — revealed back in 2006 but recently trending on social media — puts the fictional mother’s perspective in new light. Munsch, a former teacher and father of three who was born in Pittsburgh and now resides in Ontario, explains on his website that the hardcover was born out of a song he penned in sadness after his wife, Ann, lost two babies delivered stillborn.
His lyrics, repeated mantralike throughout the book: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”
Robert Munsch (Photo: YouTube)
“I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead,” writes the children’s book author, who adopted three children. “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.”
Deciding to turn the verses into a book, he explains that his original publisher resisted, not believing it was a children’s book. Another publisher picked it up and, Munsch says, shared that it was “selling very well in retirement communities in Arizona. … Grownups are buying it for grownups!’” Munsch reveals that “parents buy it for grandparents, and grandparents buy it for parents, and kids buy it for everybody, and everybody buys it for kids.”
What children get from the story is, of course, quite different than what adults take away. And knowing the backstory to the mother in the sketches — cuddling and comforting her “baby” the very same loving way regardless of how much time has passed and how much life has changed — transforms the tale entirely.
Top photo: Firefly Books