Thursday, February 24, 2011

Paper Bag Princess / Mortimer / Love You Forever

The Paper Bag Princess Mortimer Love You Forever

I'm a great fan of Robert Munsch's picture books, which is a good thing since I am required to read one or two or three or four of them most days. Munsch uses key phrases over and over in his books, making them rhythmical and enjoyable to read aloud; and he often writes with the voice of a child, which is alternately hilarious and terribly moving.

The Paper Bag Princess is a feminist fairy story. A princess wearing only a paper bag rescues her prince from a terrible dragon, only to be told her clothes are revolting and her hair is a mess. She tells the prince where to go, calls off the wedding and says,' You are a bum!', which occasions hilarious laughter in my family (sadly, in the expurgated version at our local library, she calls him a toad, not nearly as naughty or funny).

Mortimer is a little boy who sings loudly when he is supposed to be going to sleep. It drives his family crazy, even his seventeen brothers and sisters – so much so that they call in the police. The police lecture him, then go downstairs; Mortimer starts singing again; and the noise sends everyone berserk. While they're all yelling at each other, Mortimer finally falls asleep.

In Love You Forever, a mother sings the same song to her son every night, 'I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, My baby you'll be.'. As the boy ages, the mother takes more and more ludicrous steps to sing the song – such as boarding a bus in the middle of the night, letting herself into her son's apartment and singing over his bed – which are heart-warmingly ridiculous.

Near the end, she calls her son to say 'You'd better come and see me because I am really old and sick.' Her son comes, and she tries to sing '[b]ut she was too old and sick to finish the song', and he has to sing to her, instead. And then he goes home and sings to his own little baby, and every time I read it – which is most days – I choke up.

I find Love You Forever especially poignant because both my mother and my mother-in-law died before we had children, and I often feel that our kids missed out on the special experience of a grandmother's love. This book reminds me that whether or not they are living, our parents give us gifts – a special song, a prayer, a handful of stories, an ability – and it is up to us to recognise these gifts and pass them on. It also suggests that love endures, even after the death of the loved one; in fact, Munsch wrote the story in memoriam to his two still-born children.

PS – Munsch has a fabulous website here, where, among other things, you can listen to and download mp3 files of him telling a heap of his stories with sound effects! The Paper Bag Princess is here; Mortimer is here; Love You Forever is here.

PPS – Paul Mitchell recently wrote a very moving piece about the prayer he has given his daughter here.

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