More than all the stars in the sky

When I read the challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a love story, I knew immediately that I would share some of my favourite picture books about love.

Love books

Of course these are about the love between parent and child, rather than romantic love, and it is from these I have drawn my inspiration. Finding a love angle that I was happy with was the first challenge and, as usual, telling a tale in 99 words was even more so. (I think I need some lessons about telling more in less.) This is my response. I’d love to know what you think.

More than all the stars in the sky

Child waited on the step, counting stars.

Soon the clatter of dishes ceased. Feet padded out.

Child snuggled into warm enveloping arms. The ritual began.

They picked out stars and constellations.

“And Venus,” said Child. “Tell me about the love planet!”

“Well,” began Parent. “Long ago there were two people who loved each other …”

“More than all the stars in the sky,” interjected Child.

“That they wanted a child to love too …”

“So you got me!” said Child.

“Yes.” Parent scooped up the child. “And just as there’ll always be stars …”

”We’ll always love each other!”

 

Now for the books, each of which is a delight to share with young children, for reading aloud at bedtime, or any time.

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Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (Northern Ireland) and illustrated by Anita Jeram (Northern Ireland) is a beautiful tale of the love between Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. As they try to find a way of describing their love for each other, they find that love is not easy to measure. From this beautiful story comes the classic line “I love you to the moon … and back!”

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Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Canada) and illustrated by Anthony Lewis (U.K.) tells of a mother’s love that lasts a lifetime, a love that is returned by a son and passed on to the next generation through the words of a beautiful song:

“I’ll love you forever.

I’ll like you for always.

As long as I’m living

My baby you’ll be.”

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Hey, I Love You by Ian Whybrow (U.K.) and illustrated by Rosie Reeve (U.K.) is about two mice, Small and Big. Before Big goes out to get supper Small shows that he knows what to do to stay safe when Big is away. Unfortunately they forgot to say their special words and Small doesn’t follow the instructions. Fortunately Small was able to catch up to Big without incident. Attention must be paid to the illustrations to see just how lucky that was!

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I Love You With All My Heart by Noris Kern is about Polo the Polar Bear who wants to find out the meaning of his mother loving him with all her heart. He asks the other animals how their mothers love them and finally discovers how his mother loves him and that he loves her with all his heart too. (A possible concern with this book is the mix of Arctic and Antarctic animals.)

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Koala Lou by Mem Fox (Australia) and illustrated by Pamela Lofts (Australia) tells of Koala Lou who is loved by everybody, especially her mother. Every day her mother would say, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” But after other koala siblings arrive, Mother Koala doesn’t have time to give Koala Lou the attention she craves. Koala Lou comes up with a plan to hear those special words again.

Koala Lou leads beautifully into my next post which will showcase some books by Mem Fox. I hope you will join me for those.

One last thought:

I wonder what image of the Child, Parent and Family you formed from reading my flash. (I omitted some clues about other family members in the 99 word reduction.) I’d be pleased if you would share your thoughts about this.

You see, I attempted to be inclusive by avoiding specifics about things such as gender, family composition, culture and location. I wondered whether a story could be written so that each reader could interpret it to fit their own situation. Illustration could be difficult, but perhaps worth considering. This attempt to be inclusive was very different from my first thoughts to be specific to Australia, through stars observed, for example, and had nothing to do with my thoughts or opinions of the picture books shared.

However, looking back at the five books with these thoughts in mind, I notice that the relationships portrayed are:

Guess How Much I Love You – father and son

Love You Forever –mother and son

Hey, I Love You – father and son

I Love You With All My Heart – mother and son

Koala Lou – mother and daughter

What do you think? Is it worthwhile to attempt a story of the love between parent and child with an inclusive element, or is it enough that such a variety of books is already available? Do you have any other favourites, or suggestions, on this topic?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

50 thoughts on “More than all the stars in the sky

  1. writersideup

    Norah, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE what YOU wrote! Perfect! (But, sorry, I can’t stand LOVE YOU FOREVER by Munsch. A mother climbing up a ladder to cradle her single, adult son is just…OK, won’t expound! lol)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your encouragement re my writing.
      I know what you mean about a couple of the situations in Munsch’s book. I agree climbing up a ladder etc is a bit … creepy? I guess I interpret it to mean that her love doesn’t end just because he is an adult. Maybe he could have shown that in another way, without having to maintain the book’s pattern. I wonder how better he could have done that. It’s worth thinking about. While that part didn’t ring true for me, and perhaps made me feel a little uncomfortable, it didn’t lesson my overall enjoyment, but I understand how it could.

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      1. writersideup

        In my voicing my extremely strong distaste for the book I was told that Munsch supposedly wrote this “tongue in cheek.” I know I’ll never be a fan of it! lol My interpretation is it’s the type of mother who raises a “mama’s boy” and, imo (from having this type of dysfunction affect certain people I know/have known) is not a good thing : / But it really goes to show you how so much of reading and storytelling is up to the reader’s perception!

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        1. Norah Post author

          You’re allowed to not like this book. I understand and appreciate your reasons. Our perceptions and interpretations are definitely influenced by our experiences, and books will appeal or not appeal for different reasons. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Bec

    This is such a lovely FF, Nor, and I especially love the way you made it so natural to be about the love between a parent and child without the need for genders. Though of course embracing and celebrating gender is important, too, I really like the way you made the story open to all (with a parent-child relationship!). I might have to modify it a bit if I was telling it to Zig!!!! Lots of books (and film and so on) seem to have a male protagonist, and this seems to be neutral and default, and the types of books which appeal to all. Whereas books with a female protagonist often seem to be pitched as special interest, i.e. just for female readers. I wonder if this is the case with children’s books?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank for your encouragement re my flash, Bec. Actually I changed it quite a bit from the first draft thinking about how you would respond, so I’m pleased you enjoyed the result of my efforts.
      I wonder how you would rewrite it for Zig. Does he like to look at the stars? I’m sure someone somewhere will have done a study into gender representation in picture books and the way that readers (listeners) respond to them. Perhaps I’ll need to delve into it and see what I can find. Thanks for your thoughtful comment and suggestion.

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  3. Autism Mom

    Love this story! I am going to print it and read it to my son regularly.

    I received “Love You Forever” as a baby show gift. I read it once when he was a baby and was such a blubbering idiot by the time I got to the end that I never read it again.

    He found it the other night. He was reading it on my bed and when he was finished I said “how did you like that?” “I don’t know,” he answered. He was clearly feeling a lot of feels. He climbed into my lap and I rocked him, my sweet sweet boy.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Elizabeth. That is a lovely compliment! 🙂
      I understand your response to reading “Love You Forever”. I’m the same, with that one, and a few others too.
      But how lovely that your son found it and you read it together and shared that wonderful loving moment as a response. I won’t be surprised to hear that you share it frequently now. The emotions were obviously appropriate to his needs.

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  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I thought your poem was just beautiful. Illustrated yes but not necessarily with the family but rather venus and stars. I think the photo you put above it was superb.
    Gender – I think that most people when they read where there is ambiguity read in their own sex, possibly because you can relate to the characters more easily. Children probably are the same, possibly more so as they are only learning that there are differences in gender and are much more black and white at that age.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for you generous comments, Irene. Unfortunately I can’t take credit for the photo, it’s from Morguefile.com. I thought it was a great fit for my flash as well.
      I agree that readers often look for similarities, as well as dissimilarities, with the characters they read. It is a complex issue.

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  5. julespaige

    Another by McBrantey and Jeram:
    Colors Everywhere by Sam McBrantney and Anita Jeram
    (a Guess how much I love you Storybook.)

    Even though my children are big people now I always hug them on arrival and leaving when we visit. Your story is appropriate well at least here Venus is rising in the east around 6 am. Just before sunrise. A friend commented that it is strange that the ‘Morning Star’ is really a planet. Another friend says you can tell planets from stars, because planets do not twinkle. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Jules. That is a lovely book, isn’t it? Those hugs and kisses whatever the age are so important, aren’t they?
      Yes, Venus is a planet. It’s interesting that the planets don’t twinkle. Sometimes it’s hard to tell! 🙂

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  6. macjam47

    The selection of books is fantastic!
    Now to your poem. In a word – beautiful! As I read it, I noticed there was no indication of gender. You pulled it off well. Do I think we need to eliminate gender in children’s books? Yes, and no. I would like to see more non-gender children’s books available, but I do think we need gendered books too. They can be used to develop a special connection between parent and child, however, that being said, I am not sure how much attention a child pays to the gender aspect. If they like the story, it probably doesn’t matter to them if the parent is the same gender as the one reading the book, or for that matter, if he/she is the same gender as the storybook child. To me, a much larger issue is whether or not the parent(s) and child are reading together.. This not only offers special time between them, but also kindles a love of reading.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Michelle for sharing your thoughts. I definitely agree with your last statement. I think the reading and sharing together, a special time for parent and child, is the most important thing.
      The gender issue is interesting though. When Bec was even less than two, when I was reading to her, she would insist, by correcting me, that all the characters be female. I have mentioned this to a few people over the years and no one else has ever seen anything similar. I assumed she was asserting her femininity, making sure I knew she was a girl. I grew up in a very male dominated family (in number as well as attitude), and until she was born my own family was male dominated with a husband and son for twelve years. Many of the stories I read growing up were about male characters and society as a whole was very male dominated. Any stories that I had written up to that point were about male characters. When Bec was born I was delighted that she was a girl, but it still took me a while to get used to having another female around. I’m certain this is what she felt and did what she could to ensure I acknowledged her girl-ness. I have no other explanation. Later it didn’t seem to be such an issue. She’d established her role and that was okay.

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      1. macjam47

        I understand this male dominance issue. My husband had one brother who had a son, we had three sons, oldest had 2 sons, and middle son had one son. We finally got our little girl in the family two years ago.

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  7. Lisa Reiter

    I think it’s brilliant Norah! You just need an illustrator and a publisher and it would stand up well against these lovely books ❤️
    Guess how much I love you.. To the moon and back.. Makes me cry every time..

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for you encouragement Lisa. I agree with you about Guess How Much I Love You. Koala Lou does that to me also. I can’t even talk about it without tears in my eyes. 🙂

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  8. Annecdotist

    Enjoyed your post brimming with love! And, as some believe, if parent-child love is the precursor of romantic love your not off on a tangent at all.
    I applaud your attempt to write a gender and culture neutral children’s story. I thought I read the Parent and Child as beyond gender, but when you posed the question I was able to place them as father and daughter – an interesting process for me as I do think the binary categories of gender can be very damaging to those who don’t fit so comfortably in either box.
    Your picture books also made me wonder if these are/could be used to teach the parent about unconditional love, which doesn’t come automatically for everyone. I’m sure the mere act of sitting reading about it with the child would help, but some do need to be shown what love means when they’re not feeling so comfortable and cuddly!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Anne. I’m pleased you read the story as gender neutral. It’s interesting the different ways readers have “seen” the characters. I wonder how a psychologist would interpret that?
      I think the books could teach parents about loving and unconditional love. In some ways I think they are more important for the parent than for the child. If the child feels loved unconditionally the books will confirm those emotions. I’m not sure how a child who doesn’t feel that, such as Marnie or Diana perhaps, may respond. Hopefully the shared reading of parent and child may help them find ways of expressing that love.And as you say, this ability to love and or bond with a parent is a precursor to forming loving relationships later in life.

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  9. Sarah Brentyn

    Aww… ‘Guess How Much I Love You’ is one of my favorite “love you” picture books. And there aren’t many out there that are well done, IMO. There are a few that stand out because the illustrations and words are beautiful, but not many so it’s a treasure when you find one. 🙂 ‘If Kisses Were Colors’ is a great one (for really young ones).

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  10. Pingback: Love is Everywhere « Carrot Ranch Communications

  11. Charli Mills

    I discovered (through my editor who pointed it out) that I don’t physically describe my characters. I let their traits and dialog shape who they are because I’m more concerned with their growth through the story than what they look like. So I like stories that allow readers to place themselves in the protagonist’s role. With picture books, that’s more difficult but using animals is a clever way to avoid typing the look of the characters. I agree with Sacha that we need more diversity, but I also think that presents an opportunity for writers, too! Loved your flash!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. Sometimes I struggle to express what I want in 99 words when others seem to tell so much more. I read and re-read, cull and re-cull, choose and re-choose, but I fear I lose some meaning in the process. This one I think I’ll work on some more as a longer piece – work on the diversity angle. As you say, there are opportunities for writers there, but at the moment I’m seeing it only as an opportunity for an experimentation with writing – to see what I can do.
      Your animal suggestion covers some of the bases, but animals featured in four of the five books I shared and they were still male or female The pronouns give it away more than anything else. It’s the use of pronouns which is problematic. However I don’t think I’m ready to make them non-specific yet. I don’t want to be an “it”!
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts – more food for my thought!

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  12. Sacha Black

    Opens a whole can of worms the incllysivity question. Like why is only one of those books about a daughter? I think it’s important there’s stories children can relate too. And while a child may be able to relate to a story about the opposite gender I think that’s something which only happens as the child becomes more conscious and able to question – not at toddler age.

    If you’re talking inclusivity then we need a whole market of books on ‘different families’ in order for kids to be able to relate to their experience of what family and love it. There are some. But not enough of a range of books to say the least.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is a difficult issue, I agree. In fact your family was one I had in mind when I was trying to write the non-specific version. There are so many different family compositions these days. Some children live with carers other than parents too. I’m not sure how I would include that, but I have some thoughts about how the story could be illustrated. First, I need to write the story though and I think I am quite interested to see what I can do with this one.Thanks for you input.

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      1. Sacha Black

        It’s interesting isn’t it – because we still read our son stories about other types of families but I suppose he hasn’t quite clocked on that there’s anything different about us yet. We do have some LGBT family specific books though.

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        1. Norah Post author

          There are many different family compositions these days, and all are accepted. Hopefully he will never feel “different”, just another part of our rich diversity.

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  13. Steven

    That was very clever Norah and I think you succeeded in making the story generic. I had to go back and read it a second time because I simply didn’t notice it until you mentioned it; the story could be interpreted multiple ways by different family situations (blended families, same-sex marriages, etc).

    In response to your request on interpretation, I thought the Child was a little girl. I assumed the Parents were male and female, although I didn’t attribute any particular gender to the Parent specifically mentioned in the story. I didn’t consider what the other parent was doing, although on reflection I would assume they were at work (perhaps a night-shift worker). I assumed the child was a single child, although based on your later explanation, presumably this wasn’t the case.

    I will say that I think it is reasonably obvious you struggled to fit it into 99 words. As you mention, this was effective at omitting clues about others in the family (which probably contributes to its success), but without that limitation I think you could have made it a little more… fluid. Regardless of this, the concept is well done.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Steven. I very much appreciate the thought you have put into your response. Yes, I did (do) struggle with the 99 word limit and sometimes think I am far too ambitious in what I want to express. I struggle to omit words or to perhaps choose the correct words. I am always amazed at what others seem to tell in their 99 word stories, and I can never tell enough. The process does help me cull words though, in all writing; but I probably still need to be more vigilant about unnecessaries. In my first (much longer) draft, the child and parent were both male, the mother was putting the baby to bed. Then I began to question the whole gender and family composition thing, and made changes to that, and then had to leave them out anyway. I have had some thoughts about how such a (longer) story could be illustrated but it will all need some more thinking work first. Your contribution has been helpful. Thank you.

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      1. Steven

        Well I guess that shows how broadly your story can be interpreted. Hmm, illustrating it would be a challenge. Maybe the characters would have to be fuzzy shadows in a lovely background.

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        1. Norah Post author

          That’s a thought. I was thinking more of multiple illustrations with a place for each family to paste their own photos or draw their own pictures if desired. I’m thinking of images on a wheel that can be turned so that one fits into a “window”, a sort of choose your own family. Would be difficult to make or construct but my thoughts are only babies yet. Might work better as a book app. 🙂

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  14. TanGental

    I assumed the parent was the mother in your story but maybe that says everything about the stereotyping of my generation. Oddly in my life the constellations were my father’s prerogative but he’d never have used that language back in the 60s. By the time his grandchildren appeared he was a soppy old fool and that’s exactly how he would have spoken.

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  15. A. E. Robson

    This child who is being taught love through the vast library of the stars has been given a very precious gift. A lovely story, Norah. One that will allow the child and the parent to take many different journeys together.

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