First of all, if you have not read this book, you can read the text here.
This book by Shel Silverstein is a favorite of many adults who remember it fondly as children and, I suppose, of people who are children now.
Not us. The Cap’n and I have many things in common, and one is a SERIOUS uneasiness with this book. Well, make that a strong dislike. When we were discussing it the other day, we wondered if people are supposed to like it. Are we supposed to view the tree as a metaphor for motherhood or fatherhood, whose sole purpose is to make a child happy, even to the extent of donating limbs for the purpose? Is it a cry for help by an environmentalist who sees the boy as the representative of a rampantly consumerist society? Or is it just a portrayal of a really unhealthy, dysfunctional relationship?
I have no answers to those questions, and at this point in my career, as parent rather than text-consuming child, those questions are irrelevant. What I concern myself with now is what my kids think of those books. I have no problem reading that kind of stuff to them, just as I don’t mind if they play with Barbies. But I never read them a book or give them toys to play with that don’t involve a conversation of some sort. If they play with Barbies, I discuss Barbie’s dimensions with them, her high-glam makeup and hair, and the difference between what Barbie looks like, and a resident of Planet Earth.
Similarly, if we still had a copy of The Giving Tree (which we don’t; we donated our English and Hebrew copies to a good cause some years back), I would ask my children what they think of the boy and the tree, what sort of relationship they had, and whether my kids think that is healthy. I wouldn’t expect the same answer from them as I would give, since their relationship with me and the Cap’n is not dissimilar to that of the boy and the tree. But we might discuss why the tree is happy when it’s fast disappearing, and why the boy keeps coming back to the tree instead of getting a job. (I suppose if the tree had a basement, he’d still be living in it.)
What are the thoughts of discerning readers, parents, and consumers of children’s books out there? Am I missing something? What makes this such a great book in the eyes of some? And what, if anything, freaks you out about it?