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Author recommends family reading time

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TORONTO -- Beloved children's author Robert Munsch says he has no regrets about going public with his addiction issues nearly four years ago, and still attends support meetings almost daily.

"Four or five days a week I go to the morning narcotics anonymous meeting, because I'm an addict and I don't want to be an active addict," the bestselling author of Love You Forever and The Paper Bag Princess said in an interview Thursday.

"In the afternoons I write and walk my dog. I walk my dog out of town, off the leash, we go through woods, it's crazy."

Munsch, who will join other authors at the Ontario Science Centre for Family Literacy Day on Sunday, made headlines in May 2010 after admitting in a TV interview that he was four months clean from a long cocaine and alcohol addiction.

The 68-year-old, who lives in Guelph, Ont., said he felt compelled to make the revelation because he was being interviewed about his life and recovery from drug addiction was a big part of it.

"Everybody told me not to do this and I did it and I'm glad I did it," he said.

"The response is very positive. I got some bad reviews but it helped that I said, 'Hey, I'm a drug addict. I haven't used for a while.' It wasn't like 'Bob Munsch found in Toronto hotel.' I did it myself. Nobody outed me."

Munsch also wrote on his website back then that he'd been diagnosed as obsessive compulsive and manic depressive, and had been going to 12-step recovery meetings for more than 25 years.

He said he's "been on some pill or another for about 10 years" but has finally found what works.

"I'm on Lithium to stop mood swings and without that I'm a wreck," said Munsch, a member of the Order of Canada and Canada's Walk of Fame who has sold tens of millions of copies of his children's titles.

"Some days I'm (makes wild hand gestures) and other days I'm (makes a growling noise)," he added, evoking the fun animated storytelling style that has earned him legions of young fans.

Though Munsch will be doing a reading at the Family Literacy Day event on Sunday, his days of touring and doing 50 storytelling shows a year are over -- a result of a 2008 stroke that left him unable to speak for two days.

"Age has kind of defeated me," said the soft-spoken wordsmith, who grew up in Glenshaw, Pa., and planned to become a Jesuit priest before volunteer work at preschools put him on his path as a children's writer.

"I never did recover all my fluency that I had before the stroke and that is most notable when I tell stories and I tell stories in front of audiences.

"I would sometimes forget the story, like The Paper Bag Princess. I've told that a thousand times but I just forget it. That's why I stopped touring. I couldn't do it."

Munsch has still managed to maintain his career goal of publishing two books a year (culling material from the 100 or so unedited children's stories he's had on file), and he's written one new story since the stroke. It's about a little girl who wants to take home a pet rat, much to her father's chagrin.

"My goal in stories is to make a story that will be good, irrespective of the time that it's surrounded in," said Munsch.

"Little kids' lives, for better or worse, are not yet cluttered up with iPhones and the neatest thing on the block."

The 16th annual Family Literacy Day, a national event created by ABC Life Literacy Canada, is encouraging Canadian families to have "15 minutes of fun" learning together.

Munsch said he still makes the time for the event because he's witnessed first-hand the challenges people face with reading and writing.

"I've stayed with families where the father couldn't read," said Munsch. "He got the kids to read things out of the paper for him."

Indeed, Munsch has stayed with many families throughout his career, partly because of economics and partly for inspiration.

"I discovered very early that I never got a story at a Holiday Inn," said Munsch. "But when I was just a new writer there was no money to do tours and stuff. I ended up staying on sofas in people's basements and there I got stories.

"I continued that when I no longer was forced to do it and consequently have stayed with all kinds of families all over Canada, and most of the kids in my books are children I met in those families."

From those experiences, Munsch has concluded "family literacy has sort of stalled" in Canada.

"It's not getting worse but it's not getting better," he said.

"Families, especially with people working, are under a lot of stress and one of the things that's lost in that is the kind of interactions with the kids that help family literacy."

Munsch recommends parents spend 20 minutes reading two "fun" books to their kids at bedtime.

His most requested book at readings?

Love You Forever, in which a mother sings a lullaby to her son, who then sings it back to her when she becomes sick.

"I wrote that after I had a baby die," he said. "That still gets to me."

"I can perform it without thinking about it, which is best because I'm reacting to the audience," added Munsch. "But then if I think about it, I tear up; I have to stop."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 24, 2014 D6


Updated on Friday, January 24, 2014 at 12:57 PM CST: adds video, replaces photo

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