Any librarian worth her cat-eye glasses and stylish cardigans must hate dozens of the sickeningly sweet, fuzzy bunny books out there. Mostly it's because as a librarian, you see books from all time periods, not just those that were published when your own darling baby was a child or grandchild. So instead of half a dozen super-sweet I-love-you-so-much tomes being in existence, there are dozens of these books being published a year and librarians have to buy them because some sappy grandmother must read this pink all over, lovey-dovey bunny book to her little marshmallow face. It makes you love an irreverent book like Whatever by William Bee. But among these most hated of books are three champions.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. Why the hate? Here is a beautifully sparkly fish, and one of his fish friends asks for one of his beautiful scales. Then another fish asks, and another. Is this is book about selflessness and friendship, or a how-to-be-a-doormat guide? Not in my house.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Why the hate? The tree's a pushover, the kid's a big time brat, and the author has given us such better work. No thank you.
But the most controversial of them all is hands down Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Why? So many reasons. First of all, it's sappy. But it goes beyond sappy to creepy. The mother keeps telling her darling boy "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be". She even creeps in his room when he is a middle-aged man to tell him this! But it's more than that. Like Shel Silverstein, Robert Munsch has given us so much. Stephanie's Ponytail, Thomas' Snowsuit, and the classic feminism-for-the-kindergarten-set The Paperbag Princess! So why would an author known for writing funny, goofy books write something so saccharine?
Did he? Some people say that this book, like all his others, is meant to be a little tongue in cheek and that it has been misappropriated by all the saps out there. That could very well be, but children's librarians the world around struggle not to roll their eyes when a patron requests this book.
And now I get it.
At the end of the book, while the mother is dying, the boy rocks his mother and says "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living, your baby I'll be". I said those exact words to my mom the last time I saw her. I said those words after I told her how much I disliked the book, but that I get it now. It wasn't becoming a mom that made me understand, it was losing my mom. No matter how old I get, if my mom is gone or not, I will always be her daughter. I will always be her baby.
I might have lost a little bit of my hip librarian street-cred, but I gained a little part of my soul.
But The Giving Tree? That book is still messed up.