November 18, 2009

Madeleine Brand Thinks That Tree Should Just Stop Giving, It's Only Encouraging Him

It's apparently NPR Bad Decisions Day around here. After her slightly quirky, mid-day news/talk show "Day To Day" was canceled, West Coast radio host Madeleine Brand found another gig: momblogger. She is leading the LA Times' new blog/podcast hybrid, Parenting on the Edge.

First up: a thoughtful takedown of pathological children's books like Love You Forever [never heard of it, and it's a damn good thing. It looks and sounds awful.] and Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree [loved it, then hated it.] What's especially nice is that after talking to an actual expert, Brand changes her mind mid-podcast on Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's classic, The Runaway Bunny. Totally makes sense now.


Parenting on the Edge: Madeleine Brand casts a critical eye on classic kids' books
[latimes via publicist]

10 Comments

"Love You Forever" is by the same author as "The Paperbag Princess". We were given a treasury of his books and I must say, seeing all his work in one place gives stylistic context to "Love You Forever" that takes away the ick for me.

Robert Munsch's children's books all have an element of the surreal to them and parents (or even other grown ups) don't have first names or identities other than "the mother" or "the father". So when the mother in "Love You Forever" is shown driving across town with a ladder strapped to the roof of her car, intent on rocking her now-grown son, it makes sense in the world Munsch's books create.

I hate "The Giving Tree," though, and got in a huge, alcohol-infused argument with my boss about it awhile back. Not one of my prouder moments.

When my son was much smaller (even as an infant) I read him Runaway Bunny but I've always changed a lot of the words ("I'll blow you where you want to go"). We don't read it much anymore, not because of the words, but because my son is freaked out by the artwork of the baby bunny turning into the various things (most specifically when he develops the enormous ears). "Have a carrot" is still a catchphrase at our house, code for "sit down and think about this for a moment".

We got The Giving Tree for my son's most recent birthday, and I started to read it to him, never having read it myself. We didn't finish it -- not because I didn't like it, but because I burst into tears about two-thirds of the way through and my three-year-old son ended up comforting me ("Don't cry, Mamma. Don't cry.") which is a whole other set of issues.

Cried the first time I read the Giving Tree and swore never to give it to a child of mine. Love You Forever I finally looked up a year after some controversy on an internet group. Totally creeped me out.

Runway Bunny on the other hand we love in this house. All little bunnies need to exercise their freedom and know that Mama will be waiting when they are needed.

Runaway Bunny creeped me out because the Mom Bunny is stopping the little bunny from following his dreams.

On the other hand, when kids are little, they really seem to like the idea of a parent-safety-net, and I can't blame them.

Being a parent has really thrown into high relief that some things that seem innocent to some peoople can be very polarizing to others.

Brand's children's book scholar guest made this exact point; that Runaway Bunny is a reassuring imagination game with a kid at a specific developmental stage, when he is testing the idea of separating from his mother for the first time. All the dream squelching only kicks in if you keep reading the book to the kid later.

Ah, which turns it into Love You Forever. Which is supposed to be a knowing parody, like Paper Bag Princess. It's all coming together now.

Love You Forever may be intended that way, but I'd bet 98% of parents don't take it that way. I sure didn't, nor did the several relatives who gave us a copy.

The basic message of "Love You Forever" also seems reassuring to me--that even when kids seem unloveable, there's some part of the parent that will remember the baby they were--that the tenderness the mother feels toward her newborn is still there, even after he grows up and moves away. Plus, the ending has the part about the grown son visiting his dying mother, and then rocking his own baby girl, which is always good for a little welling up.

Love you Forever is a really cool book. OK so it's over the top, but it's about how much a mom really loves her child, and no matter what, she really loves her child, whether he's a grown up or not. I hope you read it sometime :)

I love "have a carrot" (from the Runaway Bunny). I love how his mom just shows she's always there for him.

I agree that The Giving Tree is just plain irritating though :)

Do you think it's possible to read too much into things?

er, uh, that's exactly why it sounds so creepy.

That's interesting, about Runaway Bunny - that it's developmental. Because I always looked at it the other way. I wonder at what age does it seem stifling rather than reassuring.

I read somewhere that Silverstein thought of the Giving Tree as not a kid's book. Not that my kid has a problem with it at all - I'm the one who hates it.

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