The Giving Tree | Shel Silverstein

I’m not sure what I can say about this classic story of love and selfishness, generosity and greed, neediness and co-dependency that hasn’t already been said a thousand times.

So I will share my own responses to this book.

The Giving Tree was first published in 1964. Right from the start it created controversy and a love/hate relationship amongst it’s readers.

The first time I read this book I almost sobbed out loud. I was an adult; a preschool teacher wondering if this was a book I could read aloud with my classes.

The page that still gets me, even now after multiple rereadings, is when the boy takes away the tree’s trunk, and Silverstein writes, “And the tree was happy…but not really.”

The end always surprises me after that.

I always expect some growth or change in the characters.

Instead the book ends as it starts…with a tree that loves a little boy (and who would do anything for him)…and a boy who loves the tree very much (with the expectation that the tree will always be there for him no matter what).

I was bemused to see the many reviews on Goodreads referring to the environmental message of the book. In 18 years of teaching, not one child ever talked about the environment. It was always about the relationships.

Curiously many of the five year olds I taught felt sympathy for the tree. (I say curiously because so many of the reviews talk about the fear they have that children see themselves as the boy).

My classes were usually horrified that the boy had taken everything from her. 
One insightful comment mentioned that the old man was still the boy – he looked like an old man but he was still just a boy. 
Many of my classes told me that the boy was mean. 

But invariably, the children who asked to be read the book over and over again were the children with mother issues.

Mothers who were distant, difficult, dead, deserted or drugged. It was like they were seeking comfort in the all-giving, all-nurturing, unconditional love of the tree even as they knew that that kind of relationship was impossible, unrealistic and unhealthy.

For me this book is a classic.

It’s timeless; it speaks to people across all ages, gender and backgrounds; it creates strong feelings; it deals with big issues – personal issues that cause people to stop and reflect on their own lives, opinions and beliefs and it is beautifully written.

“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 tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.

13 thoughts on “The Giving Tree | Shel Silverstein

  1. I have never really read a children's book as an adult. I am so impressed with this review and the insightful comments of children. This is a must read for me.


  2. I remember reading this book, and thinking that the boy was very self-centered. To me, it did seem to be relationship oriented rather than being geared to environmental issues.


  3. I have always had a love/hate relationship with this book. The message of love in it must be tempered with the message that taking love but never giving love will eventually leave both parties empty. I read it to my son when he was small, maybe 3 or 4 and his reaction was that the boy was mean and he was very upset for the tree. He told me he never wanted to read that book again and he hasn't. He's 30 now, and still thinks it's an awful book. Right up there with Robert Munch's \”Love you forever\”.Great G post, with intresting followup by fellow ABCers!


  4. One of my absolutely, total, complete all time favorite books!I give this one a lot as a gift!It's just an absolutely grand book!It's really interesting to see philosophy change over the years with people who read this book. I read it to my daughter as a child. She still reads it, but says she reads it in a different way now.This was a wonderful post!Thank you for linking it.A+


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