Robert Munsch driven by depression

One of Canada’s best-loved children’s authors says his stories — from princesses battling dragons to mischievous boys making play-dough cookies — actually stem from his battle with depression.

“I didn’t expect any of this,” says Robert Munsch.

“I think I fell into storytelling as a way to get away.”

Munsch, 60, has manic-depression, characterized by extreme mood swings and irritability, countered by periodic, classic depressive symptoms. Recently, Munsch learned he was listed in a college psychology textbook as a well-known Canadian author suffering from depression. “People with manic-depression get into strange things, like action sports and drinking. I got into storytelling, which is less dangerous. I just seem to have a manic compulsion to write stories.”

Munsch will be in Calgary tomorrow to spend the day with Trevor and Rachelle Lee and their three children, winners of a national contest to mark Family Literacy Day. When Munsch travels to speaking engagements, he often stays with the families of the children he is visiting.

Those visits sometimes translate into books, as Munsch tends to find his stories in the children he meets during his travels. “I never got a story staying in a hotel,” he exclaims.

His website features pictures of all the kids who are main characters in his stories. The site also features a plethora of pictures, poems and unpublished work. “I started it because I get so much stuff from kids. This is like my refrigerator.”

Munsch was born in Pittsburgh and later moved to Guelph, Ont., in 1975 with his wife. He started telling stories to his children’s day-care class and later started writing them down. Today, it’s estimated he has sold more than 25 million books. One of his first major successes was Love You Forever, a short but much-loved tale of a mother’s enduring love for her child. The book, too, has endured. Hundreds of people recently viewed an exhibition of the book’s 16 original illustrations (by artist Sheila McGraw) at a small Ontario gallery. The illustrations, which were priced at $300,000, later sold to a Winnipeg couple who said the book “spans the generations.'”

Munsch’s books are a staple in many college students’ childhoods and are so well-known they are even referenced in university textbooks. The Paper Bag Princess (1980) is said to illustrate “fairy-tale fracturing” in sociology textbooks, a term used to describe fairy tales that don’t end with happily ever after. “The book has become iconic,” says Munsch. He says he didn’t realize how loyal his readers are until a university visit.

While on campus, Munsch was approached by a female student who immediately recognized him. “She yells, ‘omigod, it’s Robert Munsch!’ and all of a sudden all these students are running to their rooms to grab their books so I could sign them,” he recalls, laughing.

As for the future for Robert Munsch?

“I’m not going to write the great Canadian novel, if that’s what you’re asking,” he says. “Everyday I get maybe 10 letters of stories kids want me to write. “Sometimes it’s hard to do what everyone wants.” 

By Heather McGillivray — Calgary Sun