Death in Children’s Literature: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

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In the picture book Love You Forever, Robert Munsch captures every mother’s feelings of unconditional love. I can’t read it without my eyes tearing, and I love the tender expressions of love. But I wonder if children like it.

The toddler makes a mess and drives the mother crazy; but she loves him forever. The 9-year-old talks back to her and acts like an animal; but she loves him forever. And so on. Even when he’s a grown man, the mother still sneaks in late at night to rock him to sleep, singing, as always:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.

Then, of course, she gets old and can no longer sing. The son, by now a father with his own baby, sings to his mother, reassuring her that as long as he’s living, his Mommy she’ll be. He then turns to repeat the scenario with his own little baby.

I really like this book and I cannot read it without crying: it is so tender to me to think how my son, now just one-year-old, will be getting old. No matter what he does, I love him and always will. And yet, I suspect that this is a book for the mother.

In one respect, Love You Forever does not align with my personal beliefs: I believe that mothers are mothers forever, even after death, because life continues beyond this one. Therefore, to me, the line should say not “as long as I’m living” but “forever.” For me, then, this story isn’t all that disturbing; it’s a mother expressing her love to her son.

But what is your experience with Love You Forever? Does any child want to read it, thinking about how their mother will someday get old? Is this image of death disturbing to children?

I’m thinking about this book as a part of my “Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History” project. I’m pondering the question: does death and dying belong in children’s literature?

Reviewed on January 21, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • For me it does. Personally I don’t believe in hiding from children a fact of life they will inevitably have to deal with sooner or later. And some aren’t lucky enough to be allowed to wait until later.

    Of course, the way it’s dealt with is important. I think a perfect example of the subject being handled well is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo.

  • I loved Munsch books growing up–my favorite being The Paperbag Princess, but I agree that this is a book more for mothers. I actually buy this for every mom-to-be that I know because it is such a beautiful story. I’m not a mom and I still get teary eyed when reading it! 🙂

  • Yes, death should be in children’s literature. We all have different beliefs about life after death. Reading is the way to open oneself up to now ideas and how other people believe. We shouldn’t shield kids from the hard things in life forever. It doesn’t do them any good.

    I haven’t read this book in forever. Now that I’m a mom I should revisit it again.

  • I have always disliked this book. It started when I worked at a preschool, and the whole spring program was based on the book. i thought it was a bizarre way to end the year. A few years later, someone gave me this book as part of a baby shower and read the book aloud. We all ended up cracking up because some cut-up had to make fun of the old lady mother rocking her giant son. Anyway, I’m fine with death in literature, but this one never did anything for me.

  • My first experience with it was at playgroup. All the moms cried. The kids could have cared less. They all thought the mom sneaking into the house was funny.

    I have it at home and we read it occasionally. My daughter never makes the mom/death connection. She just likes the poem. I do too 🙂

  • Thanks all for sharing your thoughts!

    Nymeth, I haven’t read that one, but in the context of this post, your comment has intrigued me. I agree, context is important. Telling kids about death can go wrong…

    Trish, I like that one too! Yeah, me too!

    Kathy, my thoughts exactly, though as Nymeth said it must be in an appropriate context…

    Natasha, it was so different reading it now that I’m a mom! All the more touching for me.

    Smallworld Reads, I wondered if anyone disliked this book. It seems it’s either a “teary” book or a “I hate it” book. It does seem like a bizarre book to bring into a school curriculum. I wonder who decided on that?!

    Chris, Oh I’m glad she likes it! I wondered what kids think of it. My son is just a year old, so he doesn’t notice much these days!

  • I agree, Rebecca. I actually think stories can be a really great way of introducing difficult topics like death. Of course, I wouldn’t introduce the topic by making a kid watch Natural Born Killers or anything 😛 But a good children’s book will allow a child to empathize with the emotions of the protagonist, so if the protagonist has to deal with the death of someone they love, in a way the child will be experiencing those emotions themselves. But they’ll be doing it in a safe context, the context of a story that can be put aside. And who knows, maybe reading about certain topics can be of some help if we have to deal with them in real life. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for a child to first be exposed to death through the death of a parent, for example. I mean, that’s an awful situation in any case, but they’d have to deal with both grief and the confusion of trying to make sense of a situation they have absolutely no previous information about.

  • I think it’s a moving story, but agree its more for mothers than kids. I remember reading it with my mom and avoided it like the plague. My mom tends to be emotional and I never liked the “weight” of the story or how my mom got when we read it together. It wasn’t until recently that I even understood that the story had anything to do with death!

  • Nymeth, Oh it would be so hard for a child to loose a parent if they never had any exposure to death! I completely agree.

    Ladytink, I don’t remember it as a kid. In your experience, were you “traumatized” by the death in this book or was it natural, just sad?

    Heather, that’s so interesting that you didn’t realize the “death” aspect of it, even with your mom getting emotional! I was wondering how it came across for kids, regardless of whether or not they love the book!

  • rebecca:i’m a foreign student.My english is very poor,i’m very interesting in this question about death in children’s literature.Could you give me your E-mail adress? ,my paper title is about it.thanks . ,please touch me .thanks .

  • I love this book, I have 5 children and everyone of them has 1 book. Same book. I have dedicated One book each one of them . I have Read it numerous times. I sat, read it and each time rocked them and cried knowing I will not enjoy them forever or that they will not need me…the book touched my heart and soul but this book is fabulous . My oldest is 19 and he just told me today the best book I remember you reading me is love you forever! he cant find his and asked me to buy it. It has touched his heart too!

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