The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree

"Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy."So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk...and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tr...

Title:The Giving Tree
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0060256656
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:64 pages

The Giving Tree Reviews

  • Mer
    Apr 20, 2007

    Scrolling down, it seems several reviewers resent this book's apparently heavy-handed message about selfishness/selflessness. I can totally understand why they find it upsetting or sappy. Overbearing, even. But I don't agree.

    Some fascinating theories have been put forth about

    It's deceptively simple on its surface, yes. But if this were truly just some hard and fast hippie dippy morality tale, would its two main characters (living natural tree, growing human boy) and their relat

    Scrolling down, it seems several reviewers resent this book's apparently heavy-handed message about selfishness/selflessness. I can totally understand why they find it upsetting or sappy. Overbearing, even. But I don't agree.

    Some fascinating theories have been put forth about

    It's deceptively simple on its surface, yes. But if this were truly just some hard and fast hippie dippy morality tale, would its two main characters (living natural tree, growing human boy) and their relationship have weathered such extensive interpretation over the years?

    Professor Timothy Jackson from Stanford University (found on Wiki):

    An admirable assessment from a theologian... although as a wee grub, my perception was different. My own folks, secular humanist scientists who taught me a "recycle, reduce, reuse" mantra at around age four, introduced me to

    around the same time we started reading

    . (Another seminal doozy!) Perhaps due to their influence on my early development, I came away from both books with a lot of very heavy, persistent questions concerning humanity's careless attitude towards ye olde Mother Earth.

    Without question, we're a species that generally takes and takes from the environment, thanklessly and thoughtlessly. Sadly this seems to be a trend that will continue until both we and the earth's resources are completely exhausted. (That is, unless we can all somehow convince ourselves AND our kids to turn it around.)

    Ever notice that throughout the course of the tale, the little boy just "wants" things from the tree? Only at the very end of his life does he actually "need" something from her... a place to rest for a moment, to be at peace.

    Anyhoo. Aspects of human behavior introduced to me in this book continue to flummox and obsess me in adulthood. Rereading it now only reinforces my lifelong desire to give something back to our weary but still beautiful mother earth, who seems to have no choice but to submit to our endless taking.

    Silverstein fable is empathetic and open-ended. At its core, it reflects humanity's short-sighted, often lifelong inability to distinguish want from need, but it does not damn us for it.

  • Benjermin
    Nov 26, 2007

    Yes, the boy is a selfish bastard, who doesn't deserve the love and generosity he gets time and again. Anyone who read this book as a child is well aware of this fact.

    Nonetheless, I'm shocked to see how many disliked it. My only thought is that many readers allow their hatred for the boy to be confused with hatred for the book. Does the book condone the boy's behavior, or simply seek to tell a narrative? Does the quality of a book suffer when the moral quality of its characters flags?

    It is the j

    Yes, the boy is a selfish bastard, who doesn't deserve the love and generosity he gets time and again. Anyone who read this book as a child is well aware of this fact.

    Nonetheless, I'm shocked to see how many disliked it. My only thought is that many readers allow their hatred for the boy to be confused with hatred for the book. Does the book condone the boy's behavior, or simply seek to tell a narrative? Does the quality of a book suffer when the moral quality of its characters flags?

    It is the job of narrative to relate a story. It is the job of a classic to relate a timeless story, to which countless readers of any age can relate. So whence the hatred? Is it because so many readers have known people who have taken and taken with such unrelenting fervor that they then displace this hatred onto a book that merely tells a story so fundamental it can't help but arouse feelings in any human who reads it?

    Silverstein, in my opinion, reached his peak with this book, so simple, and so pure, and more timeless than any book I can think of (at the moment).

  • Sava Hecht
    Nov 28, 2007

    Co-dependent tree needs to set some fucking boundaries.

  • Skylar Burris
    Dec 23, 2007

    I was drawn to this book again and again as a child, and I discovered that my three-year-old daughter also wanted me to read it to her repeatedly. The book has given rise to numerous interpretations, and I myself have viewed it differently over time. Some people have a negative, visceral reaction to the book because they believe they are required to see it as a positive and uplifting tale of giving, something they cannot manage to do.

    These days, we are accustomed to sanitized, upbeat children's

    I was drawn to this book again and again as a child, and I discovered that my three-year-old daughter also wanted me to read it to her repeatedly. The book has given rise to numerous interpretations, and I myself have viewed it differently over time. Some people have a negative, visceral reaction to the book because they believe they are required to see it as a positive and uplifting tale of giving, something they cannot manage to do.

    These days, we are accustomed to sanitized, upbeat children's tales, but great children's literature has not always spared children the horrors of the world, and it has not always clearly stated its morals; more often, the morals are implied and are absorbed emotionally through the reading. We must not forget that Shel Silverstein was a biting satirist (consider such poems as "Almost Perfect But Not Quite.") It's just like Shel Silverstein to take the guise of a gentle little children's story to skewer the faults of humanity. Yes, "The Giving Tree" is a very disturbing book, but perhaps it's disturbing because it's _meant_ to be.

    Many Christians (including myself initially) have thought of this as an allegory for Christ's sacrifice. I can certainly see why people think this is a Christian allegory: the tree, like Christ, gives itself entirely for the boy, even to the point of abject humiliation. If it is a Christian allegory, however, it is the disturbing tale of Christ's terrible, painful, continuous rejection by man, and _not_ the heart-warming tale of unconditional love and forgiveness many Christians take it to be. There is no repentance in "The Giving Tree," and therefore no real forgiveness.

    Some take it as a tale of unconditional parental love, but if it is, it is again a painful tale: a tale of the child who never, his entire life, truly learns to appreciate his parents. Environmentalist read it as a tale of man's selfish exploitation of nature. Feminists regard it as a story of man's subjugation and abuse of woman and woman's failure to stand up for herself (the tree is a "she").

    The fact that the book can speak to so many people on so many different levels is, I think, evidence of its subtlety and irony. It really can work on more than one level, if you _want_ it to. But we err, I think, if we assume this is a "sweet" and positive tale. It is sad, but this is almost cathartic, because life, too, is sad.

    Few readers come to this book expecting the reality and complexity and vaguely drawn morals we get from the harsh Greek myths and the stark Bible stories and the creepy old fairy tales, which were the staples of past generations. Today we expect to encounter cleaned-up, upbeat, didactic stories where everyone learns his lesson: learns how to share or to tolerate or to be nice, a simplicity that is typical of so much children's literature today. But life does not always order itself according to neat storylines in which the bad guys suddenly become good by the third act.

    Children's literature such as "The Giving Tree" plays a valuable role by helping children (and even the parents who read it to their children) to wrestle with the ugly, beautiful, and complex truths of the world. It helps children to begin processing, very early on, the powerful and often disturbing visceral emotions these truths awake.

    ---

    Additional thought: Whenever we are doing a book purge at our house, my daughter tries to give this away, despite repeatedly asking me to read it to her when she was young. I insist on keeping it because the particular copy I have was given to me and signed inside by a childhood friend and because I love the book. When I asked her why she is always trying to give it away, she said, “Because I don’t like it.” She devours Shel Silverstein, and this is the only book to which she would give less than five stars (she gave it one). When I asked her why she doesn’t like it, she said, “Because the boy is so mean and it’s so sad.” And yet there was that part of her, in her younger years, that was fascinated with the sad reality it depicted, curious, and wanted to hear it again and again.

  • Nathan
    Jan 08, 2008

    I know that many people have a sentimental love for this book, and I respect that -- you can't rationalize emotional connection. And generally, I like this author. But with this book, since it inspired no real emotional response in me, I am left with only the rational perspective, which in me was this:

    This book troubles me deeply, because it enshrines self-destructive and self-pitying martyrdom as the paragon of love for others. And I think there is already far too much of this in our society.

    I know that many people have a sentimental love for this book, and I respect that -- you can't rationalize emotional connection. And generally, I like this author. But with this book, since it inspired no real emotional response in me, I am left with only the rational perspective, which in me was this:

    This book troubles me deeply, because it enshrines self-destructive and self-pitying martyrdom as the paragon of love for others. And I think there is already far too much of this in our society. This book seems to say that if you really love someone else, you will damage yourself, cripple yourself, tear down your boundaries, destroy yourself for them. And further, it implies that those who are loved must by nature use and devour those who love them. An incredibly unhealthy model for love and relationships, especially for a child's book.

    I am a parent of two, and though many parents have offered up this book as representative of the true nature of parental love, I cannot agree. If I were to raise my children this way, I feel I would only be teaching them to take selfishly from those who love them, to use people up and always expect more -- and on the flip side, I would be teaching them that if they love someone then they have to give of themselves until it hurts, have to live without boundaries of any kind.

    Instead of raising my kids this way, I feel it's important to teach them to respect those who love them and care for them, to not take from others so much that it damages; I feel it's important to teach them that even in love we all must maintain our boundaries, our integrity. I feel it's important that my kids, and all kids really, understand that real, healthy love does not demand destruction or diminishment of anyone involved in it, that in fact real and healthy love ultimately heals and builds up those who participate in it.

    I suppose that this book may have been intended as an anti-lesson, an example of how NOT to behave -- but if so, then it was not made clear that this was the case, because most people who read this book seem to take it as an ideal example of love.

    Certainly it's possible to not take it so seriously; but when the underlying message and philosophy is so concentrated and heavy-handed, it's hard to avoid tasting it in every passage.

    It reminds me of that other beloved childhood book about love, where the young boy's mother is so obsessive about cuddling him and tucking him in at night that even as he gets older and older, she follows him around, sneaks into his college dorm, sneaks into his home as an adult, takes him from his bed with his wife still sleeping and reassures him (herself?) that he'll "always be my baby". *shudder*

    Overall: Sweet, but to the point of being cloying, and a disturbing message. =/

  • David
    Dec 03, 2010

    Okay, this some motherfuckin' fucked-up shit right here.

    is the straight-up wack story of how this selfish little ass-faced prick kicks it with this full-on saintly tree. Ever'thin' fine for a while, y'all, with the lil' prick all gettin' up in there an' sayin' to the tree, "Yeah, you know you mah bitch," but then all of a sudden, this jumped-up prick go through puberty, get his chia on or some such shit, and so he

    Okay, this some motherfuckin' fucked-up shit right here.

    is the straight-up wack story of how this selfish little ass-faced prick kicks it with this full-on saintly tree. Ever'thin' fine for a while, y'all, with the lil' prick all gettin' up in there an' sayin' to the tree, "Yeah, you know you mah bitch," but then all of a sudden, this jumped-up prick go through puberty, get his chia on or some such shit, and so he's off screwin' the skank-ass bitches on the block all damn day and can't spare one motherfuckin' minute for this poor old tree who waitin' for him and lookin' all motherfuckin' sad an' droopy an' shit. So this little punk-ass bitch come up on the tree -- this is a motherfuckin' tree, hear? -- and ask her ['cuz she a sexy-ass lady-tree] fo' some g's. Well, the tree is all, like, "I ain't got no cash, bitch. What part o' me say ATM on it? Mmm-hmmm. I thought so..." And she shoulda held up there, but -- no -- this tree gets all fuckin' benevolent and be, like, "Well, I got mad apples you can go hustle on the streets." So this ass-faced prick just, like, boosts all these goddamn apples an' leaves this tree with, like, its weave all out an' shit. So next, after workin' the streets wit his crew, little bitch boy come back, lookin' all older an' jacked-up, and ask the motherfuckin' tree for a goddamn crib. So the tree like, "Hol' up. Do you even fuckin' see Coldwell Banker all up an' down in here? I think not." But then, being all kindly an' shit, the tree is, like, "But I got mad branches..." And what? She motherfuckin' takes it up back again fo' this fool. Later, another goddamn time, punk-ass bitch come back, lookin' all old an' saggy and wack now, and he like, "Bitch, what you got fo' me now?" "Awww, hell naw," tree says, but then she start gettin' all soft an' shit again an' say, "Why don' you cut down my trunk or some such shit and go 'head and whittle a pimped-out yacht, full-on Hamptons-style?" He, like, "Yeah, I thought so, bitch." And then -- guess the fuck what? -- little shriveled-up, played-out mack come on back wit his ass all hemorrhoided-up an' shit. He look straight-up nasty and old. Tree is, like, "I know you ain't come t'ask me. All's I got is a motherfuckin' stump, you ass-faced motherfucker. How you gon' come back at me like that?" This punk-ass bitch is all drooling and jacked-up and just wanna sit the hell down. What do the motherfuckin' tree do? She say, "Hell no! You motherfuckin' fucked-up fucker, get yo' motherfuckin' ass face out o' here fo' I cut you up good: give you some stank-ass mad tree fungus, motherfucker!" The motherfuckin' end, motherfuckers.

    Okay, so that's not really the way

    ends, but maybe it's the way it should. Some time ago, my ex-girlfriend and, afterward, long-time co-dependent friend gave me

    as part of my birthday gift. I loved it, but I hated it, too, because I felt so bad for the tree who is endlessly shat upon by this worthless "Boy"--as he is always known, regardless of age; I longed to console the tree and, maybe a little, to condemn this book as yet another emotionally-scarring "children's" entertainment in the manner of

    . Don't give me any shit about learning valuable lessons. The only lesson I learned was that human beings are nothing but steaming piles of corn-freckled feces, and that I wanted to found a not-for-profit shelter for unloved trees and rabid dogs and any other nonhuman thing, living or not, which was either unwanted or despised.

    Having said all this -- and although I don't approve of the treatment of the giving tree -- this book is very moving and very delicate. The delicacy is somewhat counteracted when the reader turns over the book and sees the author photograph of a thoroughly evil-looking Shel Silverstein. He looks like the sort of person who would burn down whole forests of rare giving trees just for kicks. Picture Othello just before he strangles Desdemona.

    If you -- and, yes, I'm talking to you personally -- are not moved by the plight of the tree after reading this book, then perhaps it's time to go an' check yo'self: are you the givin' tree or are you the motherfuckin'

    tree? Or are you the sneak-out-in-the-middle-of-the-night-an'-steal-all-my-shit tree?

  • Patrick
    Sep 28, 2014

    I recently read this book to my little boy.

    It's not the first time I've read it. It's probably not even the tenth time. But it's the first time I've read the book in a decade, and given the fact that my memory is like a cheese grater, I like to think I got a pretty fresh experience.

    The result is this: I honestly don't know how I feel about this book.

    Even if you haven't read the story, you probably know the gist of it. A tree loves a young boy and gives away pieces of itself to the boy to make

    I recently read this book to my little boy.

    It's not the first time I've read it. It's probably not even the tenth time. But it's the first time I've read the book in a decade, and given the fact that my memory is like a cheese grater, I like to think I got a pretty fresh experience.

    The result is this: I honestly don't know how I feel about this book.

    Even if you haven't read the story, you probably know the gist of it. A tree loves a young boy and gives away pieces of itself to the boy to make the boy happy.

    On one hand, this story can be taken as an open, honest exhortation toward selfless Agape-style love. Love which asks nothing. Love which gives everything.

    On the other hand, this story can be read as a horrifying condemnation of dysfunctional unrequited co-dependance.

    After reading the book, I honestly don't know which it is.

    On one hand, taking this book at face value is probably a fool's game. Silverstein was a twisted sarcastic bastard. He wrote lyrics for Dr. Hook. (Most notably "Freaking at the Freaker's Ball.") And back in my misspent youth, I discovered a poem of his in one of my Dad's Playboys. It was called "The Great Pot Smoke-Off."

    My point is, dude was part of the counterculture. He was full of mocking and meta. And as such, it seems odd that he would write something that looks like an endorsement of Christ-like selflessness and then was that.

    But on the other hand, when Silverstein was having fun with you, he usually didn't pussyfoot around. One of his earliest publications was "Uncle Shelby's ABZ book." Which *looks* like a kid's book, but is clearly not:

    Here's a piece from the page on Potty Training:

    "See the potty

    The potty is deep

    The potty has water in the bottom.

    "Maybe someone will fall into the potty and drown.

    "Don't worry. As long as you keep wetting your pants, you will never drown in the potty."

    Not a lot of ambiguity here. His tongue is pretty clearly in his cheek.

    But when I read through The Giving Tree, I don't see the author winking at me from behind the scenes. The story seems to be straightforward.

    But here's the thing, even if the story *is* straightforward, I don't know how I feel about it. Is the boy selfish in the story? Absolutely. She's a little shit. Yet he doesn't get one bit of comeuppance. We kinda want him to, but that's not what happens. The boy doesn't seem to learn a lesson. And neither does the tree.

    That seems to imply there is no lesson to be learned here.

    Let's be clear. The tree is *happy* at the end of the book. There's no ambiguity about that. It's entirely possible that the tree has acted in it's own best interest. It's entirely possible that the tree, if you'll forgive the expression, is acting according to the Lethani.

    Even after thinking it over for a couple days, still I don't know how I feel about it. That's a rarity for me.

    For that reason, I'm giving this five stars. If you write a book that leaves me asking questions. If you write a book that people can have legitimate disagreements about. If you write a book that people can still wrangle over after fifty years… that's pretty clearly a five-star book.

  • Mischenko
    Feb 23, 2017

    Please visit our blog at

    to see this and other reviews!

    The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is a must read for children. It's a story that can bring tears to your eyes. Children can learn about the importance of caring, giving, and how we should treat others.

    This essential and childhood favorite still remains a part of our home library.

    5*****


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