The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is a children’s book that was published in 1964. It tells the story of a tree and her boy, and the relationship between the two of them.
The tree is, as the title says, giving — it begins with shade, apples to eat, and branches on which he swings. As the boy ages, he demands more and more of the tree; he takes the apples to sell when he wants money, cuts down the branches to build a house, and cuts down the trunk to build a boat. Every time the tree gives something to the boy, there is a refrain of “and the tree was happy.” Finally, the boy comes back as an old man, and uses the stump as a place to it and rest, as that is all he needs. And, once again, “the tree is happy” (Silverstein 1964).
Although The Giving Tree is considered a classic, it’s also often considered controversial. There are arguments about whether the tree and boy are in a loving relationship or an abusive one. After all, the boy demands everything of the tree and gives the tree nothing in return. In the New York Times book review, William Cole (1973) says that his impression is that “that was one dum-dum of a tree, giving everything and getting nothing in return. Once beyond boyhood, the boy is unpleasant and ungrateful, and I wouldn’t give him the time of day, much less my bole” (pg 1). I agree with this interpretation. I wouldn’t even say that the book details a typical parent/child relationship. Relationships are only functional if there is an even give and take, even with the parent/child relationship. Though I can understand why adults would choose to read this to their children and see it as a message of unconditional love, the boy taking everything from the tree, down to its very physical being, is indicative of an abusive relationship. The tree has some sort of Stockholm syndrome/masochist mentality in that it is only happy when it is sacrificing all that it has to the boy. Does the boy know anything about the tree? Does he ever ask? If it didn’t give apples, he probably wouldn’t know the type of tree it is. The tree should have clocked him in the head with an apple.
The Giving Tree shares the story of a young boy and his lifetime relationship with a certain apple tree. But it is much more than that. It is also a story of giving (and taking or receiving), friendship, happiness, loyalty, sacrifice, gratitude, happiness, and most importantly - love. The tree ultimately gives everything for the boy without receiving much in return. The theme or message of the book has been interpreted in many different ways. It can be very simply understood by a second grader, or an adult can search for a deeper meaning.
School Library Monthly, 2009
Integrating the use of The Giving Tree in a library setting would probably be best as a story time for children, preferably older. It would be necessary to highlight the giving nature of the tree and tie it in with a discussion about charity and philanthropy. If it was presented around the holidays, an actual tree could be displayed, like a Salvation Army Angel Tree, or to decorate a tree with handmade ornaments (made by the children) to donate to a needy family for the holidays.
Brodie, C. (2009). The giving tree by Shel Silverstein - a forty-five year celebration. [Review of the book The Giving Tree, by S. Silverstein]. School Library Monthly 26(1), page 22. Retrieved from https://www.schoollibrarymonthly.com/
Cole, W. (1973). “Excerpt from ABOUT ALICE, A RABBIT, A TREE… ” New York Times. Retrieved from https://shelsilverstein.tripod.com/Books/NYTBR-GT.html
Silverstein, Shel. (1964). The Giving Tree. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Shel Silverstein reading The Giving Tree