The Giving Tree
Author & Illustrator: Shel Silverstein
Can you say controversy?
Almost since it was
published, audiences are
Originally published on October 7, 1964, The Giving Tree has sparked controversy and divided audiences basically since day one. So, why am I tackling this book as my first review on what I hope will be a long-flourishing site? Well, it’s a book that’s on Mr. Alex’s Bookshelf, and it should be on yours. For a few minutes, let’s forget that some think (with good cause) Silverstein turned out to have a less than illustrious personal life, and let’s concentrate on this particular work: at best, the story teaches about unconditional love; at worst, it’s a cautionary tale about a relationship where boundaries are not clearly set.
Quick Rating: Buy & Keep
The picturebook traces the life of a boy, from toddler to old man, and his relationship with a tree. The tree gives the boy everything, and I mean EVERYTHING she has to give; from her leaves, to her branches, to her trunk. The boy takes and takes, never saying thank you–and always asks for more. The tree is unflinching in her devotion. Always giving.
Clean, simple, sparse. Not a lot going on in the page. There doesn’t need to be. Great for the imagination. A lot of today’s storybooks are too busy. This one is not.
It’s On My Bookshelf
The book, aimed primarily at six-eight year olds has been interpreted and reinterpreted ad nauseum over the last 50+ years. Some people have the tree standing in as a mother figure (she is a she, after all) and have her representing a mother’s unending devotion to her child. This one gets Mr. Alex a bit hot, as even though the tree has been gendered “female” she could easily represent parental or caregiver devotion rather than a mother’s devotion. Caregiving is not exclusively a gendered attribute.
Other’s have the tree representing God and his unending love for his children. OK, the gendered representation bothers me a lot here too. And so does the appeal to religion, to fill what can easily be filled as a simply humanistic trait.
Still others have focused on the narcism and ungrateful nature of the child who just takes and takes and takes without so much as acknowledging the needs of the tree. And, without so much as a thank you. Well, that much is true. The kid is a jerk–well into adulthood. But, let’s focus on the tree for a few.
The tree is always there for the child. Always present, always available. How many of us had caregivers like that growing up? How many of us needed caregivers like that growing up? There is an axiom that is not so old, but quickly gaining ground that I try to adhere to: Be the Parent You Needed as a Child. The tree gives us the perfect example of unconditional love. Yes, the kid in The Giving Tree is a total, unabashed snot. The tree, on the other hand, is accepting, loving and kind. To a fault.
And that fault, does need to be addressed. There is an argument that the book can foster unhealthy relationships as the tree gives and gives and the child takes and takes. Well, dear reader, if that’s the message that is ultimately conveyed by the book, the fault falls squarely on your shoulders. You see, it is your responsibility to actively engage in and read the book with the child. You control the interpretation of the narrative. Ask key questions like: Was it right for the boy to take so much from the tree? Did the boy ever say thank you? Why did the tree give everything to the boy? I defy you to get through the book without crying. I can’t.
The simple act of discussion not only will engage your child in the reading but will also enhance those critical thinking skills that are so essential to their development. And, the tree will be happy. [End.]
If you want to purchase a copy of The Giving Tree, and support my endeavors at the same time, you can click on one of the links below. No extra cost to you, and it will help me out! More books to read, more reviews to do!
Please, leave comments! I love a HEALTHY exchange of ideas. After all, critical thinking is essential to life.
If you’d like to preview the book, here’s read aloud by Shel Silverstein himself:
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.