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Kid’s Corner: The Giving Tree by Silverstein

Welcome to our very first Kid’s Corner! Each month, my daughter and I will pick a book to read and review together. I’ll provide my thoughts on the book and I’ll write out my daughter’s thoughts.

Some things to know about my daughter:

  1. She is 4
  2. She LOVES all things princess (mermaids are a close second)
  3. She likes to read all kinds of books but particularly princess books

Some things to know about me:

  1. I HATE princess things, particularly princess books (Barbies are a close second).
  2. I like to pick different kinds of books, except for princess books.

So for our first book, we picked a classic…

giving tree

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

First Published in: 1964

So, I have always disliked this book. Much to my chagrin, when I was pregnant with my daughter we got two copies of this book for our baby shower. I’ve disliked the book for a long time because I think it is a horrible message that highlights selfish behavior. For the one person on earth who doesn’t know the plot of The Giving Tree, it is essentially the story of a relationship between a boy and a tree. As the boy grows, he is no longer satisfied with playing with the tree, but requires more and more from the tree, until the tree is left a stump that the boy (then an old man) uses to rest. Interpretation of the message in this book is controversial and I’ll discuss some of the theories below.

Anyway, when my daughter was 2.5 she became obsessed with this book and wanted us to read it every night at bed time. So, then I hated it for a second reason: It’s long. For a bedtime book, it feels endless, and of course toddlers figure out quickly which book is the longest in order to draw out bedtime. Luckily, at some point she forgot about it and it sat in her shelf untouched for about a year. A few weeks ago, she found it at the back of her bookshelf and we read it again together.

She seemed to be enjoying it and didn’t remember it from when we used to read it every (and I mean EVERY) night. But, when we got to this page…

pageI looked over at her and she had tears in her eyes. I asked what was wrong and she said, “it’s so sad, now the tree has nothing. Why did he take everything away?” At this point we took a break to talk about giving and loving (and how when we love someone, it makes us happy to give them things). Then we finished the book. Here’s Emma’s review:

E: I liked the book
me: What did you like the most about the book?
E: that the boy came back at the end
Me: was there anything you didn’t like about the book?
E: that the boy was taking everything from the tree, because the boy wasn’t being very nice.
me: did you like reading the book?
E: yes, I loved it, thank you mommy
Me: and did you like the pictures?
E: yes, I liked the pictures of when he was a little boy.

So, she liked the book, but it made her sad. The things she didn’t like were the same things I disliked about the book too. My interpretation of the book has always been that it is a story of the parent-child relationship. If this is the correct interpretation, then I have problems with it. Parents do (in the ideal situation) provide unconditional love, but parenting is more than just giving everything of yourself to your child. It’s a more reciprocal relationship than that depicted in the book. And, my own parenting style is one that makes me believe that children should be provided with the tools they need to gather the things they need in life, rather than handing the child everything without question. The boy never once expresses gratitude or appreciation for all that the tree has sacrificed.

But, this book has been interpreted in multiple ways. Below are some interpretations for what the boy and tree represent:

1. the parent-child relationship
2 friendship
3. religious interpretation: the tree represents God and the boy represents mankind
4. Environmental interpretation: the tree represents nature and/or the environment and the boy represents mankind. An allegory that is used to teach environmental ethics.

So which one interpretation do you believe? And, what are your thoughts on the book? Do you like it or not?

And, one final reason why I dislike this book: The fact that someone thought this was a good author photo to put on the back cover of a children’s picture book.

author

The New Yorker published an interesting piece on this book. You can read it here.

Coming next month: This Book Just Ate my Dog by Richard Byrne

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Diane #

    Jen I love that I can re-live my son’s life through you. Shel Silverstein was a popular author in our house when my son was younger, Giraffe and a Half was his favorite. I had no patience for Runny Babbit but my husband did and would read that with him. Good memories. Look forward to more reviews.

    Like

    March 1, 2015
  2. Dani #

    I recently read this book to my 4 year old son and at the end he asked “Mommy can I have a tree of my own”. I asked him why he wants a tree and he said because it would be his best friend and it will love him whenever, even if he is mean or bad. I always looked at this book as being about friendship. In my interpretation, the tree is the good friend and the boy the “bad” friend and no matter what the tree was there for the friend. Only in his old age is the boy able to see what he had done to his friend. I 100% agree that they could have put a better picture of the author on the cover. The picture is frightening!

    Like

    March 18, 2015
    • That’s a cute story. I have heard of several people who have interpreted that way. I still take issue with the fact that it’s not really a healthy friendship. One person takes and takes and never really is grateful for all he receives and the other friend gives everything with little reward. I am not sure that the boy was even able to appreciate what he had done even when he was an old man. I found it all very sad

      Like

      March 20, 2015

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