23 May 2006

Runaway sales and Runaway Bunny

Canada's National Post ran an article this month on Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw. I'm too old to have had this book as a child, and, since I'm not a parent, no copies have been pressed on me by eager friends and relatives. I know Love You Forever from checking it out in bookstores and from hearing it periodically described by children's-book fans as either wonderfully affecting or creepy and maudlin.

I found the Post's article interesting on multiple counts. I hadn't known that Munsch also wrote The Paper Bag Princess. I thought it significant that the manuscript disquieted his usual publisher; this book wasn't an easy sell. Finally, the National Post states that ten million copies of the book have been sold in Canada--a country with only slightly over thirty-two million people.

Love You Forever is part of a genre that I recall hearing an editor (quoting her publisher) call the "I Love You More Than That Other Book" books. Though they take the form of kids' picture books, these titles rack up big sales numbers as gifts for adults. Not that children don't respond to their words if they sense those words have emotional meaning for the adults in their lives. But these books offer words for parents.
Love You Forever, Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa's You Are My I Love You, Nancy Tillman's On the Night You Were Born, and other examples are in the parents' insistent voices.

All of which made me think about the "I
Love You More..." book that I grew up with: grandma of them all, Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny, with pictures by Clement Hurd. Why does The Runaway Bunny work so well as a story for children? [And of course it must be better than more recent books; did I mention that I grew up with it?] The mother rabbit is just as loving as the mothers in those other books. She's just as persistent as the mother in Love You Forever, who climbs into her grown son's bedroom at night (that's the part some people find maudlin and creepy).

What's different is that the young bunny, not the momma, drives the action. The bunny tries out autonomy by running away, or at least pretending to. The bunny exercises his imagination by dreaming up new hiding-places, producing fantasy fiction for toddlers. And yet the reassuring mother rabbit is always there.


fusenumber8 said...

Truth be told, I've always found "Runaway Bunny" to be creepy too. But in no way does it compare with the horror that is, "Love You Forever". As I see it, there are plenty of wonderful mama love books out there. Why do people gravitate towards the ones in which the parent wants to control their offspring in some way? Whether it's a mother driving through town with an extension ladder strapped to the roof or a mama informing her kid that they'll never ever be able to get away from their all-consuming "love"... well, you can see where some people might see these books as a bit odd.

J. L. Bell said...

I think parents controlling offspring is a good thing for very young kids--i.e., the Runaway Bunny audience. Toddlers want only so much autonomy. They may run ahead of their parents for a block, but then they usually look back to be sure Mommy and Daddy are there and see them.

But when adults start to give toddler books to older kids or, what's even "oddler," to other adults, then there may indeed be issues of control.

Here in my suburban town, one can now spot the schoolbus stops by the hulking SUVs lined up nearby, ready to pick up the kids so they don't have to walk the remaining three blocks home. I know it's cliche, but that's not the way it was when I grew up.

fusenumber8 said...

Someone posted a nice comment on my blog that pointed out that books like "Love You Forever" are aimed far more at parents than at children. So while "Runaway Bunny" does indeed feel like it was written with kids in mind, "LYF", not so much. And apparently some parents hand "LYF" to their kids when they graduate. *shudder*

Anonymous said...

"Runaway Bunny" invites play a lot more than something like "Love You Forever" or "On the Night You Were Born". Kids can imagine being things and sort of vicariously run away, knowing that there will always be a safety net (which is really important to some kids). I loved "RB" as a kid, but I always found something extremely eerie in "LYF". Adults buy them for themselves and give them to kids because they don't really understand that they bought them for themselves. I get moms in my store who will say "Oh, she just loves "On the Night You Were Born" and chewed through the book! I need a new copy!" Yeah, she chewed through it because she's a baby and you kept giving it to her. Babies will chew on whatever is continuously at hand! That doesn't mean she care two straws about the contents of the book - see, now she's chewing on a book about counting dinosaurs. It's just what adults do without really thinking about it. It makes parents and grandparents feel warm and fuzzy. Whatever.