There isn't a baby shower in the western hemisphere that hasn't seen all the ladies inevitably tear up as they flip through the pages of Robert Munsch's classic book, Love You Forever. As iconic a newborn gift as a silver spoon, the heartwarming story follows a baby, his mother and their favourite bedtime song "Love You Forever" through a lifetime: from the baby's first days to the mother's last.
And there isn't a feminist mom alive who hasn't given her daughter a copy of the Paper Bag Princess. The famous tale involves Princess Elizabeth, who is was planning on marrying Prince Ronald until a dragon destroys her kingdom, kidnaps Ronald, and burns all her clothes so that she has to wear a paper bag. She tracks down and outwits the dragon, and saves Ronald only to have him tell her to come back when she's dressed more princessy. Guess who gets dumped because he's a shallow jerk? Bye bye, Prince Ronald. And generations of six-year-old girls lived happily ever after.
But Munsch the man who has been called "Canada's King of Kidlit" was never content to sit on his laurels, even if said laurels include a runaway bestseller. From the first time he stood in front of a group of nursery school children as a student teacher in 1972, his animated presentation has grabbed hold of the imaginations of his pint-sized listeners. He's been telling stories ever since.
Munsch describes his stories as "middle of the road taboo. When I use words like pee and underwear, the kids go absolutely bananas!" As for the parents, "Eighty percent think it's really neat; the other twenty percent ask, How could you?'"
Munsch has published more than fifty books, which are sold around the world in twenty different languages including French and several different First Nations languages. His first efforts, Mud Puddle and The Dark, were published in 1979. Love You Forever was first published in 1986 and he has been putting out two books a year with Scholastic Canada since 1997. His most recent book, Down the Drain! was published last spring. But before he puts a story to paper, he can spend years telling, revising and fine-tuning the tale in front of his rapt underage audiences.
"I figured out once that the stories the kids kept requesting came to two percent of my total output," he says. Which stories eventually get turned into books? The kids decide!
He lives in Guelph, Ontario, and one of the things that makes his stories memorable besides characters who are stubborn yet endearing children, and story lines that tend to challenge conventions is the fact that Canadian locations and children serve as his muses. Munsch likes to use kids he meets on his storytelling adventures in his books. Ribbon Rescue was inspired by Jillian, a Mohawk girl from the Kahnawake reserve outside of Montreal, who went to hear a Munsch storytelling wearing a traditional ribbon dress. Lighthouse was inspired by a picture given to him by a little girl in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Just One Goal! came to him when he was staying with a hockey-loving girl and her family in the Northwest Territories. His three children have also appeared in various stories.
Munsch devoted his spare time to making school visits and telling stories often without advance notice at day care centres, schools and libraries. In 1999, Munsch was made a Member of the Order of Canada.
Munsch is known for his animated storytelling methods, with exaggerated expressions and acted voices. He makes up his stories in front of audiences and refines them through repeated tellings. He has said "It takes 200 tellings for a story to get good."