Love You Forever, Hate You Forever

Alison Morris -- May 6th, 2008

I call it the single most divisive children’s book ever written: Love You Forever, written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I haven’t met a single person who DOESN’T feel strongly about this book. Either it moves you to tears and you love it, or it makes your skin crawl and you detest it (as seems to be the case with several of the commenters on last week’s post about books loved by everyone but you). I myself have been known to JOKE (and, truly I’m just joking here) that "How do you feel about Love You Forever?" should be our make-or-break interview question when we’re hiring children’s booksellers. (And, no, I won’t tell you which response is more likely to get you the gig.)

No matter how you feel about it you can’t deny the fact that this book strikes a genuine chord with people, one way or another. The book’s popularity certainly suggests that a large percentage of the public adores it and sings its praises to others. How else could you explain the fact that its worldwide sales hover somewhere around the 15 MILLION mark, according to Robert Munsch’s website? (15 MILLION!! Incredible!!) More than 7 million copies have been sold in the U.S. alone. When PW compiled a list of the All-Time Bestselling Children’s Books in the U.S., Love You Forever was the fourth bestselling picture book in paperback.

As we draw ever closer to the next Presidential election, and worries mount about another Red States/Blue States deadlock, I say we divide along completely different and much less heady lines here: When it comes to Love You Forever, are you a lover or a hater? (And if you have some thoughts as to why, include those too.)

76 thoughts on “Love You Forever, Hate You Forever

  1. Janni

    What creeps me out most about this (already creepy) book is that every single person I know of who has bought it has been a parent giving it to an adult child–at precisely the point when that child is first moving away from their parents and beginning their adult lives. In other words, it gets used to lay guilt on children for successfully managing to grow up. And that makes me shudder.

  2. kenidoty

    I love Shel Silverstein’s kids poetry but I agree ‘the missing piece’ has an adult level to it. Silverstein did write for Hustler or some other adult mag. I did cry at ‘love you forever’ when I was a hormonal new mother – but I still found the ending pages disturbing and satirically farfetched. Munsch wrote a book titled Angela’s Airplane that is so out there it’s obviously satire and i still love the ending. But my friend’s think i have a weird sense of humor anyway and my kids can predict what stuff I will cry at.

  3. erinnnnn

    love you forever is creepy. as. hell. definitely for hormonal new moms. even as a child i thought the mom crawling in her son’s window, & the son rocking his mom to sleep, were creepy (& oh so poorly drawn!) images. on the other hand, i love shel silverstein as much as i think love you forever is creepy. & that’s a lot. & i really believe people don’t take enough time to think of the meaning of the giving tree. i realize it’s open for interpretation, but i feel that at the end the boy realizes that his whole life he used the tree & took it’s love for granted. how is this not like every parent-child relationship? our parents give selflessly until one day, when we’re grown, we realize just how much they gave us, & how much they gave up for us. i think that to deny this is part of the story is to deny that we can truly associate with it, even though it’s almost unbearably sad.

  4. Drinda

    I had a neighbor who acted like the mother in the book, carrying her four year old son around, presenting him like an infant to anyone who would listen and gushing about his cuteness; he was definitely her favorite as the older son was largely ignored. The book makes me gag and always brings this obsessive woman to mind.

  5. rindawriter

    I think “Love You Forever” isn’t funny, even as satire, and I don’t care how many people laugh at the author’s performances of it. I don’t care how many parents like it, either. I don’t like it. The image of the baby in the bathroom by the toilet bowl is particularly offensive, to me. A psychologist could probably make something very Freudian about that image and the author/illustrator. And I’m not a mother, but I have certainly changed many a dirty diaper for other people’s children, and while I can’t say here the stuff small children can do with a dirty diaper and/or a toilet and toilet paper, they will tend toward creativity. Toileting mishaps have nothing to do with loving children and treating them with respect. You don’t even think about it; you clean ’em up with kindness and show them the right way, with no fuss. And some parents do “eat” their children, psychologically. It’s in some Greek myth or story, I don’t remember which. A few examples in the Old Testament as well.

  6. Gregory K.

    I posted what I call an Oddaptation of Love You Forever on my blog and I’ve noted that a few times every week folks find me by searching Google for “Love You Forever Creepy”. I’d prefer them searching GottaBook and “nice guy” or something, but Love You Forever gets a lot of Google interest, I suspect with people wondering if they’re the only ones who don’t fully ‘get’ it. Sure, this is found comedy, but it’s also kinda telling, since no one ever gets to me by searching for “Go, Dog, Go Terrifying” or any such. As noted here, this, the Giving Tree, and Rainbow Fish are probably the most polarizing books of this ilk. And all, of course, are huge sellers!

  7. dawno

    When my son was little, I was one of those hormonal mothers that cried and gushed over Love You Forever. However, I also wondered why it wasn’t as hilarious as Robert Munsch’s other books. Fast forward 10 years – I went through it and found it CREEPY; yuck. Now flash forward another five years – absolutely HILARIOUS. I think it just depends on your stage of parenting. And, of course, I still love Robert Munsch’s work. Paperbag Princess, Nice Families Don’t (wasn’t that him?)- those are my favorites.

  8. Phoebe

    I hate this book and so does my mom. It is so creepy and I hate the illustrations. I also think The Giving Tree is just too sad and guilty and awful. (In general, I don’t like Shel Silverstein at all. I feel like there is this really “adult” undercurrent in everything he writes that creeps me out. Especially “The Missing Piece” . . .) However, I really like The Runaway Bunny but I just can’t really read it, it’s too emotional!!!!

  9. Julie Larios

    When I worked as a kids bookseller before I started writing books of my own, the staff and I basically hid Love You Forever from view – we knew we had to stock it, but we only brought out a copy if someone specifically asked for one. That way, we didn’t have to have people grab it of the shelf and gush about it to friends. I’m totally on the side of those who find it creepy & unfunny. It mystifies me when people say they weep – who wants a mother like that, someone who can’t let go? I prefer Woody Allen’s take on that kind of mother – she hovers over the skies of Manhattan and watches everything he does. And if either of my grown sons gave Love You Forever to me for Mother’s Day, I would really be worried about them.

  10. Jim

    In defense of “The Giving Tree” I liked it very much as a child. But then aren’t all children greedy little things who focus mostly on their own needs? If “Love You Forever” speaks to parents, “Giving Tree” speaks directly to kids.

  11. bina

    Other books that go the distance better: Koala Lou by Mem Fox illus by Pamela Lofts where the little marsupial is feeling less loved now that there are younger siblings. She tries to compete in the gum tree climbing event to impress mom, but…well you have to read it to find out! Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illus by Anita Jeram–the little hare tries to compete with his father for who loves the other best. Owl Moon by Martin Waddell, illus by Patrick Benson; All the Places of the Earth by Patricia MacLachlan. illus by Mike Wimmer; Mama Do you Love Me? by Barbara Joosse, illus. Barbara Lavallee. All better!

  12. janeyolen

    This book is about a devouring mother who infantilizes her child,invades his private space, lays a huge guilt trip on him, puts something in his cocoa because he NEVER wakes up, and all in the name of love. Satire? I doubt it. Yes, I find it creepy. But I am also not a fan of RAINBOW FISH, GIVING TREE, VELVETEEN RABBIT and an assortment of other sentimental books that we mistakingly think are for children. Jane

  13. Rose

    I agree with the comments stating that the book is creepy. I have sold books for many years and now I am a librarian and I never did like the book. Another wildly popular book that I do not get or like is Goodnight Moon.

  14. melissa lande

    I remember sitting in a room with several female cousins and their babies and we all had a copy of the book and were weeping. It’s a book for MOTHERS with HORMONES that are flowing MADLY and sweet little cherubs whom you can’t imagine becoming the people they could become, uh, around 15 years later. It’s a book for a BABY SHOWER. I don’t think it’s only a book for a sewing circle kind of group of mothers — there are some sophisticated ones who love it. When it comes to parenthood, there is a biological pull, and the idea of the passage of time is other-worldly when the child is so sweet and so small. It’s comedy when they are 15. Then when they have their own kids, you give it to them and watch the love flow and the comedy begin again. I was really surprised to read how many people hate it, though I can understand that point of view — hormones have done a lot to sell books.

  15. Etue

    I’ve always hated this book for the creep factor–totally obsessive mom not appealing. But if all these posts are true–meant ironically, total mismatch of illustrator and content intent–then this may actually be a really hilarious concept.

  16. Patty

    Glad to see that someone spoke up for the mothers who dislike this book. I do not cry when I read it – I try really hard never to be caught in the same room as this book. Satire??? If that is true I just don’t get Munsch at all

  17. rdr

    Eww…eww…eww…I do not believe for a moment that this book was meant to be funny (sorry to Andy, for whatever lame claims made by Robert after the book came out)–the eldery mother dies at the end! How is that funny?? Nope, I truly believe this book was meant to be the sicky sweet book that so many adore. I can’t figure out why people love it so! It is totally creepy-even for the “adult” customer it is meant for…

  18. Becky at Farm School

    I’m of a mother of three (ages 7, 9, 10) who dislikes the book and finds it creepy (hate seems rather strong for a picture book!). In fact, I received copies, sometimes multiples, when each child was born, and I gave each and every copy away. And something else to admit, as a Canadian to boot — I can’t stand any other Munsch books either, though almost all of them are better than “Love You Forever”.

  19. co-worker of Alison

    One of my first trips into the oh-so-cool sanctum of Booksmith’s buyers office, Alison and Lorna asked me, “So, what do you think of that book, Love You Forever?” We had a great laugh that day and I knew we would get along great! Not a make-or-break interview question but definitely an ice breaker! (And we do get along great!) P.S. We miss you, Alison!

  20. Rowena

    Oh, my, I don’t feel so alone anymore about my distaste for both The Giving Tree and Love You Forever! It’s the nasty guilt factor in both of them that is so dreadful.

  21. ellensbooks

    Alison, What a hoot! I LOVE that soo many people hate this book like I do! I remember the day the rep brought it in and said “we were all crying at sales conference”. I read it and said WHY? If you were raised in a multi generational family the worst part of it (aside from the tacky pictures esp. the mother going cross town and breakng into her grown son’s house and holding him in his sleep FEH!) is the line where she calls her son and says I’m old and sick you better come see me. Where had he been all this time!!! And he doesn’t bring his child with him for the granmother to see?? Patty McKissack came to my store right after it was out and said, “Do you know that awful new book that everyone is talking about?” and I knew exactly what she meant! I actually had a few woman come in to buy it and I would say, “this isn’t for a child, is it?” And they would say, “No, it’s for my 23 year old son who never calls me!” After that I refered to it as the “guilt book”! Thanks for the laughs!

  22. Rachel

    Logging back on (I’m the second Rachel above) to point out that I made a mistake in my comment – Munsch is not an illustrator. I thought he illustrated The Paper Bag Princess and most of his others, but it was Michael Martchenko. Sorry – but it doesn’t change my point. The book is made creepier by the illustrations.

  23. ediew

    I never heard of it as a satire. I never got Munsch until I saw a video of him perform. I don’t think his books read well, but he’s a great story teller. Maybe if I saw him perform it, I would feel differently. Until, I’m in the HATE category.

  24. Caryn

    I think “Love You Forever” could go down in history as one of the worst author/illustrator pairings ever. The artist just didn’t get what Robert Munsch is about. The cutesy illustrations don’t match the over-the-top hilarity that is so key to his writing.

  25. Andy Laties

    It’s quite interesting to listen to the audio recordings of Bob Munsch as storyteller (easily available) and then compare these to the page layout of the books as published by Annick Press. I agree that the issue is in part graphic design. Not “bad” illustration so much as pacing of text and pictures. Munsch is a master of the slow gag. His rolling rhythm and rising volume are exemplary. “Love You Forever” really works great as a delightful, bouncy Munsch read-aloud. The sappy song, in particular, is read fast and bouncy. Take the opportunity during some storyhour and read it for laughs — the toddlers will totally love this.

  26. Kim

    Well, at the risk of being labeled “uncool,” I’ll plunge in. I like this book; I like the author’s performance of the book; I think it is great for parents; and I think it’s supposed to be funny, not creepy. (Why is it creepy?) I love that my son gave me a copy for Mother’s Day one year. My husband gave the spanish version to his mother. Call me sentimental; it won’t hurt my feelings. I like the book.

  27. Maria

    Love it: As a poet for its meter and rhyme, As a parent for its message of love, As a child for its voice of comfort, As a bookseller for its power to engage.

  28. Kat

    I have never cried through this horrible, nasty, creepy book. I’m a mother. I lost my first child through miscarriage. I HATE this book, one of the few that I actively hate. If the author meant it as satire, that’s all well and good; what good is a satire if most of the readers totally misinterpret it and invest it with such syrupy, cloying sentimentality? Eccchhh.

  29. Dale

    It has a child playing next to a toilet on the cover. ‘Nuff said. OK, not really. Plus it’s a terrible book to read to a child because they can never understand you through the crying about halfway.

  30. olivia

    I think it’s creepy and cheaply sentimental, and am intrigued by the comment that it was written as satire. I also agree with the comment about the bad illustrations; that makes its popularity even more puzzling. Of course, those of us who dislike it should be grateful for small favors – good illustrations might make it even more popular. The same “ick factor” applies to The Giving Tree, which is just wrong! But some people’s interpretation is surprising. One of my uncles, a long-time conservationist, loves it. What? A tree gives its all, down to its stump, and that’s good?

  31. Stacey

    Wow does this book strike a chord with people, me included. Ummmm, HATE IT! And I find it truly funny how Allison jokes about using the “how do you feel about this book” as the make or break interview question which I find quite amusing because at the bookstore where I worked for eight+ years, we the staff used it as a personality litmus test for all new employees. Need I mention that we all disliked it? It is a truly creepy book. Moreover as the stores receiving/returns clerk my area was directly off the Children’s section, I can’t even begin to count how many times I inwardly flinch when I’d hear a mom gushing on and on to one of her friends about how sweet the book was. Ick!!

  32. Kellie Olsen

    I definitely dislike it. To me it doesn’t matter who it’s marketed to, it’s still creepy to me. Elliot, there isn’t a “correct” answer when you’re asked your opinion. That’s the nature of art.

  33. Rachel

    I am somebody who really doesn’t feel too strongly about it. I think it’s creepy when read straight, but I agree with Andy Laties that it’s kind of funny if you read it with an eye to satire. It might not be the case here, since Munsch was already a pretty big name (I think) and is an illustrator himself, but most authors don’t have any say at all in their book’s illustrator, nor in the style or content of the illustrations. I wonder how it would read and what people’s opinions would be if the illustrations were different.

  34. Raelene

    I love this book, and it never occurred to me that some people might hate it. Not be interested, not fall into the emotion, yes – but HATE it?? Every mom I know sobs over the ending. But, yes, I fully agree the audience is parents (mainly moms), not children. Kids aren’t interested past the point the little boy starts to grow up, and they don’t understand the emotions in it,

  35. Anonymous

    My BFF is a mom of three kids. I’m single and child-free. (Funnily enough, I’m the one who collects children’s books) When her first child was born I remember her commenting on this particular book and how much she loved it. I took a look and told her “That’s the creepiest **** I’ve ever seen”. 10 years later she claims she doesn’t “remember” the book (or even having liked it). Besides the creepy factor, I hate it because it’s UGLY. Just like that other hideously illustrated book “I Love You More” (Sourcebook). There must be a ton of talented illustrators & authors out there so it truly boggles my mind to see some of picture books that get published.

  36. Judey

    When I worked in bookstores, I always sold it to parents. I told them to read it aloud, and ask the child to find the cat on the pages as the story progressed. It would keep the child’s mind off of the emotions during the reading. That said, I always had good luck suggesting it during this timeframe: it is the perfect add-on for a man to send his mother. It’s about the price of a nice card, it will be seen as sentimental, and unlike a card, it makes sense to wrap it.

  37. Scope Notes

    Interesting comment from teacherninja – I agree that, in terms of appeal, “Love You Forever” is squarely in the wheelhouse of parents. I suppose I’m not a fan mainly for that reason – it’s a book aimed at adults presented as a book for kids.

  38. anon

    What about Rainbow Fish? I’m still trying to figure out how giving away pieces of your body so that other people will like you is “sharing.”

  39. Meredith

    Elliott, The Giving Tree has one redeeming value — a speaker using it as an example was the first time I really “got” the definition of co-dependence.

  40. Vicki

    Most moms I know cry over this book. Maybe it’s because I’m not a mom, but this book creeps me out! And as a footnote: When we had really misbehaved, my mom always said, “I love you, but I don’t like you very much right now.” (Which worked really well in getting us back in line, by the way!) Based on that alone, I always think, “Well, there are some times she’s not going to like him very much!”

  41. Elliott batTzedek

    Firmly in the “hate it” category. Although more than the book itself, I hate the drippy sentimentality of those who love it. But for “most divisive book” I’d have to nominate “The Giving Tree.” I got my current job because, in the interview, I was asked what I thought of the book, and gave the correct answer “Hate it, and it is a menace to mothers, women, and all thinking people.” What most people don’t know is that even the book’s editor, in an interview later with Horn Book, confessed that she wished she hadn’t done the book, and thought it was just Silverstein’s masochism being played out.

  42. Andy Laties

    I watched Bob Munsch perform this book for a crowd of children’s booksellers in 1997. He handled it as pure, satiric comedy. I believe the book was originally developed as comedy, and that the incorrect, sentimental reading is an example of the general public completely misunderstanding an extremely dry, ironic text. That it’s intended as satire is proven by the image of the mother climbing in the grown man’s window and rocking him. Munsch developed his stories during live performances for toddlers. Of course toddlers would find it absurd that a “daddy” figure would be rocked by his own mommy.

  43. teacherninja

    THe problem stems from labeling. It’s a book for parents, not children. It’s a best-selling PARENT book. We shelved it in the parenting section and it sold just as well.

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