When Emily was about two, someone gave me a terrible book by Robert Munsch titled Love You Forever. It is a dreadful story of a co-dependent creepy relationship between a mother and son. I read it once and literally threw it away. In the kitchen garbage. I was horrified by the message of the book and the sing-songy refrain of the mother. Egad!
I shared my discomfort with the book with a fellow English teacher – her children were having babies, and she said she had a MUCH better book to share with me: Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse with illustrations by Barbara Lavallee.
She was right.
This lovely book is set in Alaska in an Inuit home, and the details in the illustrations are lovely. A little girl sets about determining if there is anything that she could do that would stop her mother from loving her. As she pushes her mother through a series of “what if” scenarios of misbehavior, it is clear that the mother is certain – nothing will make her stop loving her daughter.
Now, the story does not suggest that the child can do anything that she wants. Indeed, the mother explains when she would be mad or hurt or scared, but she would still love her daughter. Limits to acceptable behavior are there, but still there is unconditional love.
Of course in true escalation style, the daughter tries to imagine the worst case. She asks:
“What if I turned into a polar bear, and I was the meanest bear you ever saw and I had sharp, sharp teeth, and I chased you into your tent and you cried?”
“Then I would be very surprised and very scared. But still, inside the bear you would be you, and I would love you. I will love you, forever and for always, because you are my Dear One.”
This is a mother helping her child learn independence. It is a beautiful story with lovely illustrations, and in it you get a chance to read aloud the word ‘ptarmigan’ – and for that alone this book is a keeper.
Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara Joosse with illustrations by Barbara Lavallee