A couple of days ago, I put my foot down. No more Robert Munsch. Well. Even I can’t say no to “Classic Munsch,” our old favourites like Mortimer, A Promise is a Promise, and – every mama’s favourite – Love You Forever. These are wonderful stories with an actual plot. I really do love them.
Some of the classics are even helpfully marked by a Classic Munsch “seal” logo. That’s to differentiate them from the book-of-the-week that he seems to be putting out right now, part of what seems to be a full-time push on the part of him and illustrator Michael Martchenko, to record and publish every story no matter how banal and awful.
Take this one, for example: Up, Up, Down, which I confiscated when it came in from the library. I heard it on a CD of his stories long ago, but now it’s a book and it’s pretty bad. What do I mean by bad?
The simple theme of this book – as with so many of his stories – is: Parents are Morons. Some are a bit broader: Grownups, like teachers, principals, or dragons, are Morons. The message of most of these books is that kids can say no at any time to any authority figure. The rest of the story is about the hilarity that ensues when children have the guts to defy authority.
Call me old-fashioned (I’ll thank you for the compliment), but I think parent-child relationships ought to be clearly defined, for everybody’s comfort. This latest batch of Munsch books blurs those lines with awful results.
There are a few “up” moments, like the enduring intergenerational Love You Forever or Murmel, Murmel, Murmel – which is about love that transcends what we do for one another and instead explores the concept of NEEDING one another. And okay, the delightful Mortimer, who does indeed keep on singing his wonderful “clang, clang, rattle, ding bang” despite authority figures’ less-than-helpful interventions. But he eventually falls asleep. Oh – also, Jonathan Cleaned Up and Then He Heard a Sound, which you hardly hear anything about these days. We love it, too, because it’s set right here in Toronto. (see an amazing claymation version done by a Grade 1/2 class!)
One more I like: Something Good, where the little girl amazingly obeys her father, albeit following through on his moronic suggestion that she stand absolutely still in the grocery store, even allowing herself to be ticketed with a price tag.
But overall, the bad ones are catching up and overtaking the good, and I think the Paper Bag Princess sets the tone – or maybe Good Families Don’t, which is (ugh) about farting. I know there’s Walter the Farting Dog and many other books about farting, but honestly – if these stories had any redeeming value, I promise you, I’d mention it here. It says something that Michael Martchenko didn’t do the illustrations for Good Families Don’t… though I’m not sure what.
Most of the books don’t have any redeeming social or cultural value. Most of them are just a ridiculous situation that escalates for no good reason – like a kid inviting the whole school to a birthday party and not telling the parents. They make good oral stories, fun to tell a bunch of kids if he’s sitting in a library at a reading. Not much fun in print.
I have to say: I feel like the Canadian Grinch for picking on Robert Munsch. But please remember that I rushed to his defense just last May when his personal history of mental illness and addiction became public knowledge. I like him personally and I want to like his books – but more and more these days, I simply don’t.