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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

International Children's Day- Variations On A Theme: Unconditional Love

In honour of International Children's Day and Children's Book Week I've decided to blog about not one, not two, but THREE children's books. Not to worry, there is a common ground. Essentially I've chosen three books that have unconditional love as a theme: Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd, Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse and illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, and I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt and illustrated by Cyd Moore.

Basically, the plot of all three stories is a child questioning the extent of his/her mother's love. In Runaway Bunny, the son comes up with hypothetical ways to escape his mother's love, but the response is always the same: she'll find him and continue to love him. He suggests he'll turn into a crocus, to which his mother responds she'll become a gardener. He also threatens to become a fish, to which his mom responds she'll become a fisherman. You get the gist. Reading the Amazon reviews, some on the negative side suggest that the mother is a little too possessive. To me, the tone is light enough to suggest otherwise, and in any case she's not as neurotic as the mother in Robert Munsch's Love You Forever.

Written and illustrated by the same team as Goodnight Moon, I prefer Runaway Bunny. While I'm not a fan of Clement Hurd's illustrations, they are at least more creative this time around as he blends the images of bunnies with clouds, sailboats and so forth. I'm not keen on the fact that every second page is black and white, but I'm assuming that was the decision of a overly frugal publisher trying to save on ink.
Still better than Runaway Bunny is Mama, Do You Love Me? It probably isn't surprising that I'd have a penchant for books with a Northern flair, but really I'm intrigued by any story with an unexpected setting, especially when the setting doesn't override the story itself. In this case, the mother's love is challenged by the threat of misbehaviour. "What if I put salmon in your parka?" Again, the response is the same: she'd love her regardless. The illustrations are much better than Runaway Bunny; bolder and more stylistic. Apparently Joosse has a sequel entitled Papa, Do You Love Me about a Maasai father and son. I haven't read it yet, but it's about time a father's been represented!
Finally, and perhaps my favourite of the three, is I Love You, Stinky Face. In this case, a child asks for reassurance that his mother would love him/her regardless of who s/he was. As you can tell, the gender of the child isn't specified and this is skilfully complemented by Cyd Moore who has drawn a neutral child that doesn't come across as a younger version of Pat. "What if I were a super smelly skunk?" the child asks, and the mom replies, "Ew, gross. I could never love you then!" Just kidding. She responds of course, how you'd expect, and while some of you are probably gagging on the sweetness overload, I think I Love You, Stinky Face, keeps it at a fun level with more kid-friendly humour infused throughout. And while the illustrations are not perhaps as technically accomplished as Mama, Do You Love Me? they are quite interesting to explore. I really appreciated that as the child gets recreated as a martian, a skunk, a swamp monster and so forth, s/he continues to wear the same striped orange and yellow pyjamas. Nice detail. Apparently there are many sequels to this book as well, including Merry Christmas, Stinky Face and It's Time For School, Stinky Face. I haven't read these and while I hope they recapture some of the charm of the original, I'm more than a little nervous that she's overkilling the thing.

Anyway, perhaps you know some other books about unconditional love? If so, please share. And happy Children's Day.

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