I have a very specific childhood memory of I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, and illustrated by Sheila McGraw (1986): I can see it laying on the kitchen floor of my mom’s best friend’s house. This friend was a foster parent, and took high risk babies. I remember looking at the book and not wanting to read it because it shows a baby in a messy bathroom (with a basket of pills spilled beside him, readers discover, as they go through the book — ah, responsible parenting), holding a gold watch gleefully above the toilet.
Messy bathrooms. Ick.
Male toddler. Four-year-old me didn’t especially care for stories about boys. All the stories were about boys or princess, it seemed. I liked stories about animals.
Did anyone ever read it to me?
Probably. I don’t remember.
The basic premise of the book seems sweet enough. A mother sings to her son this song most evenings as he falls asleep (despite the problems he causes her):
“I’ll love you forever
I’ll love you for always
As long as you’re living
My baby you’ll be”
Totes sweet, right?
Except she crawls into his room to sing this when he’s a teenager. And when he moves into his own house, she sometimes drives across town (with a ladder strapped to the top of her car) to crawl in his window and sing this to him — each time cradling him in her arms.
I think there might be some attachment issues going on here.
What’s perhaps even creepier though is that although the son clearly tries to create distance between himself and his mother (they live in the same town, yet she has to call him to tell him she’s sick & dying), he goes to her house and sings the song to her (trading “baby” for “mommy.”).
In other words, he’s known that she’s done this for a long time.
I speculate that this was at least part of the reason he tried to create that distance between his mother and himself. But whatever.
He then goes back to his own house and sings the song to his daughter.
Ah, the cycle continues. Mother-son then Son/father-daughter.
A co-worker asked “Do you think children would really pick up on this?”
No. Almost always no.
But, that’s again, whether children directly pick up on this is not the point. This is part of the larger cultural message we’re sending. And this book does not exhibit healthy boundaries. If we want to set boundaries with children and for children with each other (and the same for adults setting boundaries for other adults), it’s imperative that children’s books reflect healthy boundaries and respect for those boundaries.
When I first heard this book as an adult, I linked to this YouTube reading of it, in which the reader tries to make the story gender neutral by referring to the child (who, in the illustrations clearly presents as male and is identified by male pronouns in the actual book) as “it.” All sorts of offensive going on here. This site provides a really nice breakdown various gender neutral pronouns that are far less dehumanizing than “it,” if you’re not familiar (and I’m still learning, so that’s why I’m referring you elsewhere).
Would I read or recommend this to children in my life? Absolutely not.