Children’s Books and the Art of the Emotional Drive-By

I took Harper to the bookstore yesterday.  

The bookstore is quite a drive for us.  All the bookstores in our area have shut down.  Costco and Target are the only places around here that sell real books anymore.  Call me old fashioned, but sometimes I don’t feel like sampling pretzel dogs while I browse a warehouse and look through endless stacks of remaindered Jackie Collins novels.  

It’s a bummer that I have to drive twenty miles to spend the afternoon browsing through bookshelves and drinking cappuccinos, which was one of my favorite things to do before we started living in this Ray Bradbury nightmare called the digital book age.  I won’t rant about this long, as I know most of you reading probably own one of these devices and swear by how great they are… But I am old fashioned, and I love real live books with pages.  

I grew up in small towns in Texas, none of which had bookstores.  So… my mom and I would climb in the car once a month, and do something called “goin’ to town,” where we would visit small independent bookstores.  I remember having a feeling not unlike that of the LITLLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE girls when their  fabric showed up at the Oleson’s country store.    

I want to take Harper to bookstores and let her browse and read, as I did when I was young. I would get excited just driving to a bookstore.  I still do. 

So, now the cycle continues… Once a week, Harper and I hitch our wagon, and drive to a suburb called Westlake Village, where there still exists a Barnes and Noble and head to the Children’s Section.  

Harper is reading pretty well now.  We will sit together for awhile, and she will read to me.   Then… she will pull some books and I will read to her…

And yesterday, she pulled a book called LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch….

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“Read this one!” she said to me.  “My teacher read it to us at school and it’s really funny because the kid loses his mom’s watch in the toilet.”  

So… I started reading this book, which tells the story of a young mother rocking her baby… And she says… “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

And so it goes… That whatever age this boy is… First three, then nine, then a teenager, she will sneak into his room as he’s sleeping, wrap the child in her arms and sweetly chant this poem while she rocks him.

And as I’m reading, I’m becoming choked up saying the “love you forever” poem… when the son moves away from home, and gets his own house… When, get this… The fifty-something mother sneaks into his house at night while this adult man is sleeping, climbs into his bed, and rocks him back forth while chanting the poem.

I stopped reading.

“Wow,” I said to Harper then.  “I was really becoming emotional until this… And now, I don’t really know about this guy and his mom.  They seem a little weird.”  

When suddenly… Nosy Nellie… The woman working in the children’s section pipes up really sweetly with… “Oh now… Don’t be so cynical… Mothers never get tired of rocking their babies”  

Well, THANK YOU VERY MUCH MARY POPPINS for the moral lesson… I get what the author is trying to do here, but come on…. 

I leaned into Harper then and whispered… “It is TRUE that mothers never get tired of rocking their babies… But if you EVER meet a man in his thirties that is still sleeping with his mother and being rocked to sleep by her, RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN FROM THAT GUY.”

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I got Harper to pinky-swear that she would stay away from adult men that sleep with their mothers.

And then I finished the book for her… Which ends with the elderly mom calling her son on the phone, and saying essentially “I can’t come over and rock you tonight,” so HE goes over to HER house and rocks HER to sleep… And then he stands at the top of the staircase with a forlorn look on his face, leaving the reader to assume his mother just died.  

Then he goes home to his infant daughter and rocks her, letting you know that the terrible cycle of rocking and dying will start once again… Or the beautiful cycle of rocking and dying… Depending how you look at it… As Oprah or Wayne Dwyer would say.  

This is a theme in some children’s books… They start off sweetly, then end with death, and the titles never let you know what you’re in for.  This is why I refuse to get pulled in by a book like LOVE YOU FOREVER.  

The title sounds so nice… I think there should be a law against such sweet titles for sad children’s books.  We are already so tired and worried as parents… Do we also have to endure all these unexpected emotional drive-bys?  

When I saw the movie TITANIC, the trailers were all full of beautiful sweeping shots of a large ship with Leo DeCaprio standing on the boat shouting I’M KING OF THE WORLD like he owned the place… But because the author, James Cameron, aptly titled his movie TITANIC… I knew the boat would sink and there would be loads of death and I could prepare myself.  

I was actually happy at the end of the movie TITANIC because there were a few people that didn’t die.  It was a pleasant surprise, and I was able to enjoy the boat splitting then sinking because I knew it was coming and I was emotionally prepared for the worst.  

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Consider a book like THE GIVING TREE. It sounds like a nice book about giving… But really, it’s a book about slowly killing a tree and that’s what it should be called… It should be called SLOWLY KILLING A TREE or THE BOY WHO SOLD ALL THE APPLES… Or simply just THE TAKER.

Here are some horribly tragic children’s books with sweet titles that I have renamed so you won’t sit shocked in the Children’s Section like I sometimes do:

1)  Puff the Magic Dragon… LITTLE JOHHNY PAPER GROWS UP;

2) Charlotte’s Web… SPIDERS DON’T REGENERATE.

3) The Velveteen Rabbit… FIRE KILLS GERMS.

Subtlety isn’t something I admire anymore.  I am tired… And everywhere I go now, I have a small person that wants to eat off the floor and explore public restrooms.  I have plenty of surprises in my life.  

Will I ever get tired of rocking Harper?  No.  I’ll love her forever and I’ll like her for always… And I will gladly move through the sad (or super fun) cycle of rocking and dying alongside her.  

But… As we rock and die… Let’s enjoy the bookstore and sip some cappucinos.   

4 thoughts on “Children’s Books and the Art of the Emotional Drive-By

  1. Irony of ironies, we are watching Bates Motel as I read this. And, we just returned from a local production of Charlotte’s Web, which is also the first book I ever read that made me cry. I felt used and abused. But, in all the ways a good story should. As I often tell Karen, who has very specific ideas about how a story or film should end, if there aren’t characters we love, who are living, loving, crying AND dying, it’s probably not a very good story.

    • Charlotte’s Web, is one of my favorites. Bates Motel is good too… Have you read Love You Forever? I have become a wimp these past few years. I used to love a good cry… But now… I like a happy ending. What a wimp… Maybe when Harper is in high school…

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