For this Trendy Tuesday I chose to review a book that withstands decades of being read to young children. Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree has been a classic picture book ever since its original publishing in 1964. Silverstein had difficulty finding a publisher for this book because it was “too sad” for children or “too simple,” but eventually Harper & Row published his book, making it available to the millions of people to come to read it. The book is about a boy and an apple tree and how their relationship grows over the course of many years. The tree’s character is generous and the boy’s develops into a character who is taking.
At the beginning of their relationship, the boy and the tree have a healthy friendship, where the boy would enjoy climbing the tree, swinging from her branches, and eating the apples. The tree was “happy” when giving things to the boy, but eventually the boy starts taking more and more from her. As the years go by, the boy takes advantage of the tree in many different ways, including selling her apples to make money, using her bark to make a house, and making a boat out of her trunk. With each increasingly selfish “taking” of the boy, the tree was still happy. The book has a somber ending when the tree is left only as a stump, signifying that the boy took everything. In this final moment, the tree is no longer happy.
The boy returns to the tree one last time when he is an old man, and the tree apologizes for having no shade, apples, or branches to give to him. The boy says all he wants is a “place to sit and rest” and in this moment, the tree is happy to give him something. This book has become controversial as the years have gone by, being interpreted in many different ways. First of all, it can be viewed as a criticism of sexism, as the female tree is depicted giving everything to a boy who is ungrateful and exploitive. It can also be interpreted as a religious message to children; the tree is portrayed as an ever-generous, loving figure that could be seen as a symbol of God giving to his children. Another view of this book can be seen through the environmental perspective; humans are always taking unapologetically from the environment, and cause nature to suffer at our own hands. Some people even interpret this as satirical, claiming that it is not suitable for children but instead to be appreciated by adults in a sarcastic way.