Wednesday, October 04, 2006


LOVE YOU WHEN YOU WHINE by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
There is a genre of children's literature that my friend refers eye-rollingly to as the "mommy-mommy book," in which a child is repeatedly reassured that the love of the parent knows no bounds. It goes way back to Margaret Wise Brown's vintage THE RUNAWAY BUNNY to Sam McBratney's modern GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, both bestsellers and both featuring bunnies, but lest you think only lapins can love unconditionally, there are many other examples, including the surprisingly warm human accounting done with an Arctic backdrop in Barbara Joose's classic MAMA, DO YOU LOVE ME? and the perpetually and inexplicably popular LOVE YOU FOREVER ,which somehow reads like some sort of terrifyingly twisted Hitchcock jaunt, but who am I to second-guess such success (or the genius of its author Robert Munsch, who can make you laugh even harder than he can make you cry)? There are enough lesser-accomplished examples of eternal, infernal mother-child wheedling in children's books that I will someday compile a "mommy-mommy" booklist for a webpage that you can refer to the next time you have a hormonal swing.

So, after looking at hundreds of rodents and quite a few humans be reassured, you can perhaps sympathize with my special affection for this very subversive look at the parent-child exchange, in which a small monster-like creature is coddled by his mother: "Love you when you interrupt. Love you when you don't say 'please.'...and when you ask for every toy in the whole store, one after another. Love you when you mess with my checkbook. Love you when you unfold all the laundry I just folded. Love you when you spread jam on my computer. Love you, yes, when you are way too loud...Love you when you will not share. Love you when you hit someone. Love you when you have a tantrum. Love you, even when you say you don't love me." The great charm of this book is that page after dastardly and unrelentingly recognizable page, for all of the antics and subsequent parental pain so cheerfully and colorfully described and indicated, we have not a moment's doubt that this mother is telling the truth. In the brave tradition of Lore Segal and Tomi Ungerer, this quality, for all of the naughtiness, is the mark of a truly fine and honest "mommy mommy" book. Though I am positive your angels would never, ever, ever do a single thing like this little monster does, they will laugh to the point of squealing, and delight in someone else making the wrong choices. As for you, the lap-provider, you'll at least be able to make that connection of loving wholeheartedly. No matter what. (5 and up)

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