Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A depressing parable with a dim view of human nature
Shel Silverstein's 1964 black and white picture book about a nice little boy (who grows up to be not so nice) and the tree who loves him remains a best seller today.
I'm not sure why. Perhaps parents have a memory of the book that isn't quite accurate. Perhaps there's a lot of "buyer's remorse."
This is a negative review, but it's just one man's opinion! Another visitor to this site feels very differently about The Giving Tree.
I wouldn't want my small children to have to make sense of this book. I'm of the belief that, even today, kids deserve a little sheltering. You aren't going to send your five year old looking for work, are you? And you probably don't want to make a gift of a book that seems to say, "Humans are pretty crummy."
A little boy - I'm guessing he's an only child - loves a tree...The Giving Tree. And the tree loves him back.
Sweet! But sweetness soon comes to an end.
As the boy grows, he becomes more selfish. More materialistic. And as he grows in this way, the tree's devotion to him never flags.
She sacrifices her apples so he can sell them; her branches so he can build a house; her trunk so he can build a boat that will take him "far away from here."
Never a "thank you." No hesitation to maim his old friend.
Late in life the "boy" returns, an old man now. But instead of apologizing, it's the glutton-for-punishment tree (THAT would be a better title) saying, "Sorry," because she has nothing left to give.
But all the old man needs now is something to sit on. And since he's whittled the poor tree to a stump, he takes that.
And the forgiving tree is happy to give it.
The book has its detractors and its defenders. The defenders see beauty. The detractors see dysfunction.
Frankly, I think the detractors make a stronger case. The book depresses the heck out of me, and I wouldn't want it to have that effect on a child. (And the glowering photograph of Silverstein on the back cover of at least some editions is enough to bring nightmares! To me!)
So what to do if you want to expose your kids to some Silverstein without having to buy them anti-depressants and let them sleep in your bed for the next year? I suggest Where the Sidewalk Ends (reviewed on this site). Because it's clever and often joyous...and the sidewalk doesn't end at a tree stump. And hey...
Someone decided The Giving Tree was ripe for parody. Read our review of The Taking Tree!
Read more of Steve's reviews.
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