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William Haskins
11-10-2014, 07:54 AM
part analysis of the silverstein classic, part exploration of the author himself:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/giving-tree-50-sadder-remembered


...in 1964 alone, he published three children’s books and one book for adults. Among them was “The Giving Tree,” whose breakaway success caught by surprise not only his publishers, who had printed a modest run of seven thousand copies, but also Silverstein himself, who claimed it had no message. Sales of “The Giving Tree” doubled every year in the decade following its publication; they have since topped five million copies worldwide. But Silverstein was continually asked to defend the book, and this seems to have sapped his energy. “It’s just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes,” he would often repeat.
A moralistic reading of “The Giving Tree” is challenged again and again by Silverstein’s other writing for children, as he consistently ended his books on a note of ambiguity. Consider “The Missing Piece,” another Silverstein classic. Published in 1976, “The Missing Piece” tells the story of a circle that’s missing a wedge. The circle goes in search of this lost piece and, after some tribulations, finds it. The story could have easily ended there—the circle made whole!—but it doesn’t. Instead, the newly spiffy circle begins to roll too fast, and its view of the world becomes blurred. “That’s the madness of the book,” Silverstein said, “the disturbing part of it.”

Pyekett
11-10-2014, 03:46 PM
It's a horror story, well, a sad and disturbing tale. I never got why it has been promoted as a kid's book.

The real horror story is Love You Forever. I know Munsch has revealed he wrote it in response to two stillbirths, but jeepers, it gives me the shivers. The metaphor does not hold when the child is a grown man and the mother is climbing through the window.

It's called boundaries.

Maryn
11-10-2014, 05:38 PM
I'm sticking with Uncle Shelby's A-B-Z Book.

Aerial
11-10-2014, 09:23 PM
I love the Giving Tree and The Missing Piece. I read them to all of my kids. The Giving Tree is about selfless giving, both the good and the bad aspects. The Missing Piece is about searching for that perfect whatever, and the fact that you can't find it because there is no such thing. They're sweet and a little sad, and very appropriate stories for kids, imo.

Aerial

KTC
11-10-2014, 11:59 PM
I love both books. And I also love Love You Forever. I saw it more metaphorical. As one whose mother chose not to love him forever, I thought it dear to know your mother is out there...still seeing you as a child even when you're not. I don't think my children saw their crazed mother climbing through windows when I read them that book...they saw that love prevailed...long after they were to leave the nest. My eldest now reads it to her kids. They do not screech at night over the horrorshow nightmares they have of their mother climbing through their adult windows. I think we need to calm down here!

Jamiekswriter
11-11-2014, 12:06 AM
I can not read Love you Forever to my son without bawling my eyes out. He's seven and loves to have me read it to him. I also cry at the Velveteen Rabbit. I love Shel Silverstein's poems and read those to him, but I'm not a fan of the Giving Tree. I always wanted the Tree to swat the boy with a branch.

Myrealana
11-11-2014, 12:35 AM
The Missing Piece and The Giving Tree are two of those books that have something different for me each time I read them. I love reading them with my kids.

And I get teary just *thinking* about Love You Forever -- stalker breaking-and-entering mom and all.

RedWombat
11-11-2014, 02:48 AM
I actually wrote a thing about the Giving Tree awhile back for an article collecting responses from children's book authors.

I think I said that I really thought the tree needed therapy and maybe to get out, take some classes, and meet other trees.

I still think that. Poor tree.

slhuang
11-11-2014, 05:21 AM
I hate The Giving Tree. It is a tale of an abusive relationship coded narratively as a positive, which, NO. The kid keeps taking and taking and taking until he literally KILLS THE TREE and she just lets him do it because "love" or something and OMG THAT'S NOT LOVE IT'S TOXIC. He's an abuser and she's an enabler and I cannot articulate how awful I find this book to be.

:gaah

I mean, maybe if it were framed in our readings of it as a serious cautionary tale and a tragedy, but it's not, at least not that I've seen.

(Er, I know, tell you how I really feel . . . ;))

eta: Just read the article -- I dig what it says about Silverstein maybe actually intending the story to be dark. Maybe it's not the book I hate but society's aggregate interpretation of it, and that would be . . . most interesting to me. *goes away to ponder*



I think I said that I really thought the tree needed therapy and maybe to get out, take some classes, and meet other trees.


Yesssssssssss. :D

LindaJeanne
11-11-2014, 06:22 AM
eta: Just read the article -- I dig what it says about Silverstein maybe actually intending the story to be dark. Maybe it's not the book I hate but society's aggregate interpretation of it, and that would be . . . most interesting to me. *goes away to ponder*
Kind of like "Every Breath You Take" being generally received as a sweet love song, when it's actually supposed to be about an obsessive stalker.

C.bronco
11-11-2014, 06:29 AM
I never read The Giving Tree, and now want to because of this post. When I was four, my Dad finished reading The Jungle Book to my brother and I, and read us The Raven... who knows why. Mom wasn't happy, but my brother and I felt privy to arcane and wonderful knowledge we hadn't encountered before.

Well, years later, I have only quoted The Raven to my son, but Goodnight Moon became a favorite even though I had never read it before I had him. I still love that book today.

dolores haze
11-11-2014, 07:09 AM
Read The Giving Tree so many times with my kids and I never failed to point out what a rotten brat that kid was.

Haggis
11-11-2014, 07:46 AM
I first read The Giving Tree as an adult. Loved it. I don't think it's a book about abuse. I think it's a book about life. We have certain rolls. Stuff happens. Carried to its logical conclusion, the boy grows old, dies, and is buried in a coffin made from the wood of that same tree.

Of course it could simply be something Silverstein threw together in about half an hour along with some crappy drawings. It's one or the other, I suspect.

J.S.F.
11-11-2014, 10:08 AM
Two stories have stuck with me all these years. The Giving Tree is one and The Velveteen Rabbit is another. While the latter is unabashedly a tearjerker, it is primarily a kid's book.

As for S. Silverstein's work, it can be seen many ways. I always thought the kid in question was representative of society being a "gimme gimme" sort even back then--I first read it when I was around six--and the kid is representative of the selfishness that's in all of us. The tree, the eternal loving mother, is a selfless--and can be considered rather naive--sort...but a mother with her child is often portrayed that way.

In any case, both novels do teach us something, but interpreting Shel Silverstein's work is something that will fascinate people for decades to come.

blacbird
11-11-2014, 10:10 AM
You want dark, disturbing children's tales? Read the classics, by the Brothers Grimm, or Hans Christian Andersen. Read "The Little Match Girl". Read Roald Dahl.

Shel Silverstein was a unique talent, and found a niche no one else exactly occupied.

caw

rugcat
11-11-2014, 10:51 AM
How about Rudolph the red nose reindeer?

Here's a poor reindeer born with a deformity and all of the other reindeer mock him, shut him out, and won't let him play in their reindeer games and basically make his life miserable – all because he's different.

And when do they realize this is wrong? Well never actually. What happens is they find out that he can be useful to them -- that supposed deformity actually is a great asset for them.

Then, sure, they love him. But if he had had a crooked foot, it would be an entirely different story. So the moral here is don't mock people who are different, not because it's wrong, but because they may be able to help you someday.

Great lesson for kids.

jjdebenedictis
11-11-2014, 10:53 AM
A lot of problematic stuff goes right over kids' heads, and what they do absorb -- what's left of the story after it goes through the filter of what the kid can comprehend -- might be a wonderful tale.

For example, my grandparents had a copy of Little Black Sambo, and I remember reading it (at the appropriate age) and enjoying it. I get what's problematic about it now, but at the time, I don't think it did me any harm because I don't think I was capable of absorbing the problematic bits. It was just a lovely tale of a boy fooling a tiger and turning it into ghee for his pancakes.

Unsavory
11-11-2014, 11:29 AM
In my adult life I've always assumed The Giving Tree was intended to be dark and about a one sided, semi-abusive relationship. That said, I pass no judgement on the tree; the tree is a symbol of unconditional love, infinite wisdom, and all that is good about the world. The boy is the reality of humanity; he takes, consumes, and destroys,and he's never even happy while he does it. The tree is happy by behaving in the opposite manner, all giving, all understanding, pure selflessness. I think it's actually brilliant, even if the ethics don't quite match up with those of the reader.

Tazlima
11-11-2014, 05:38 PM
I was a voracious reader as a kid (as I imagine most of you were), and what I remember about The Giving Tree was that it made me think. I thought the little boy was mean to just take and take the way he did, but the tree was happy to give him everything. Why was she happy? If I were her, I wouldn't be happy. I wouldn't want to be cut down and made into a stump. What if some other kids came who wanted to climb a tree after she was a stump? She'd probably be sad then. Of course, she was a tree and not a person, so it's not like she had a lot of choice about what happened to her. But then, she offered for the boy to take her apples and her branches. Etc. Etc.

The ambiguity was what made it such a strong story. It's like the ending to The Lorax, where you're left wondering whether it was too late for them to restore what they had destroyed and, if they did, had they actually changed or would they just ruin it again later? I remember desperately wanting the boy to plant the seed and bring all the animals back. However,if that had actually happened in the book, it would have just been one more happily-ever-after and I wouldn't have thought about the book's message nearly as much.

As an adult, it's easy to look at the Giving Tree and say, "This is an abusive relationship" or "this is an allegory for Jesus sacrificing himself out of love" or whatever, but kids lack the context to label it and move on. For them, as for the author, it's just a story about a tree and a boy with kind of a sad ending, and that's all it needs to be.

Marian Perera
11-11-2014, 06:27 PM
There's a parody called "The Objectivist Tree", where the cover shows the tree giving the leafy finger.

NateSean
11-11-2014, 07:22 PM
The kid keeps taking and taking and taking until he literally KILLS THE TREE and she just lets him do it because "love" or something and OMG THAT'S NOT LOVE IT'S TOXIC.
Yesssssssssss. :D

There's a College Humor video you need to watch called "The Really Giving Tree". I'm afraid to post it here because it's very NSFW, but I think it nicely encapsulates the discussion here.

All stories have an element of darkness to them. It doesn't make them bad stories, but it does remind you that the world is not a black and white place.

Does anyone remember a book called "The Fall of Freddy Leaf?" A story that allegedly teaches children about death?

You know what I hate about the underlying message of that story? It's a leaf. The tree is not dying, just the leaves, which are the botanical equivalent of skin or nail clippings.

I'm sure glad they didn't write a sequel. "The Evisceration of Harry the Hair Strand."

Jamesaritchie
11-11-2014, 10:10 PM
The Giving Tree teaches kids pure evil, all in the guise of love. The message for parents is no better.

benbradley
11-11-2014, 10:46 PM
In my adult life I've always assumed The Giving Tree was intended to be dark and about a one sided, semi-abusive relationship. That said, I pass no judgement on the tree; the tree is a symbol of unconditional love, infinite wisdom, and all that is good about the world. The boy is the reality of humanity; he takes, consumes, and destroys,and he's never even happy while he does it. The tree is happy by behaving in the opposite manner, all giving, all understanding, pure selflessness. I think it's actually brilliant, even if the ethics don't quite match up with those of the reader.
I think that's the darkest interpretation I've ever seen. It sounds like it came straight out of Original Sin.

I never read The Giving Tree, and now want to because of this post.
It's a pretty short read:
https://archive.org/stream/TheGivingTree/The_Giving_Tree_djvu.txt

Amadan
11-11-2014, 10:54 PM
The Giving Tree teaches kids pure evil, all in the guise of love. The message for parents is no better.


Now that's funny!

gingerwoman
11-13-2014, 07:21 AM
I love both books. And I also love Love You Forever. I saw it more metaphorical. As one whose mother chose not to love him forever, I thought it dear to know your mother is out there...still seeing you as a child even when you're not. I don't think my children saw their crazed mother climbing through windows when I read them that book...they saw that love prevailed...long after they were to leave the nest. My eldest now reads it to her kids. They do not screech at night over the horrorshow nightmares they have of their mother climbing through their adult windows. I think we need to calm down here!
I really loved reading the "I'll love you forever" book to my older son, and he loved it. Yeah the window thing was a little weird and metaphorical, I also saw a version of the book where that had been removed entirely.

Younger son only lets me read books linked to TV shows he likes, but the younger one is on the autistic spectrum, so he's a little more rigid about things like that, and we have to work with that.

I've never read the Giving Tree or seen it in New Zealand though I gather it's a big deal in the States.

Sage
11-13-2014, 07:41 AM
Even when I was a kid The Giving Tree bugged me. I couldn't have put the word "abusive" to it then, but that's how I saw it. The little boy just kept taking and the tree just kept giving. It bothered me that it seemed to be portrayed as positive and yet it clearly wasn't.

mccardey
11-13-2014, 07:43 AM
Even when I was a kid The Giving Tree bugged me. I couldn't have put the word "abusive" to it then, but that's how I saw it. The little boy just kept taking and the tree just kept giving. It bothered me that it seemed to be portrayed as positive and yet it clearly wasn't.

Funny thing is, I loved it when my kids were tiny (say - up to 20 months). After that I thought - yeah - no. There's a fair bit of unhealthy entitlement happening...

I do think its popularity was very much a product of its time and its culture. It wouldn't do so well now, I think.

BenPanced
11-13-2014, 07:55 AM
Kind of what happened to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was once a fable for standing out and being yourself. Now it's about bullies who win in the end because their target caves when they're in trouble and he's the only who can help.

gingerwoman
11-13-2014, 09:01 AM
Kind of what happened to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was once a fable for standing out and being yourself. Now it's about bullies who win in the end because their target caves when they're in trouble and he's the only who can help.

My novel Wicked Wonderland is an erotic retelling of that story. :D Is that OK to say in a thread about kids' books? http://www.coh2.org/images/Smileys/unsure.gif

Re reading horrifying tales to kids, my first thought was my parents didn't do that, but then I remember I was terrified by a long playing record of Hansel and Gretel, but wanted to listen to it again and again despite being terrified (more by the music than anything else)

And also my mother had a book of Grims' Fairytales and I wanted to hear The Goose Girl, and The Red Shoes a second time, and my mother would say how terrible and gory they were, and I didn't really even understand what she meant by that I was just fascinated by them. The didn't scare me like pieces of music did.

Chrissy
11-20-2014, 03:33 AM
Here's my take, having just read it for the first time (thanks for the link, benbradley):

There's no allegory. It's a tree. It didn't actually say any of those things, because trees and humans can't communicate with each other.

So.

Stop raping the planet in your lame, ineffectual attempts to be "happy," you stupid, selfish humans! At the very least, don't justify your pillaging with claims the trees are all fine and dandy with you cutting them all down!

:D

I'm mostly kidding. But I was raised in a conservative Christian home where it was taught the earth was made "for us" and we were given "dominion" over all the other creatures, so that's were my (admittedly literal) mind went. Frame of reference can be fun. :D

E.Murray
11-21-2014, 06:59 PM
Great discussion. This is the best testament I've seen to the book's brilliance. It has a way of magnifying our own character. One sees it as a picture of real love (i.e. real love doesn't stop at anything to fulfill the beloved). Another sees as a raping of the planet. Somebody else sees it as an abusive relationship. Or pure evil. And a valid argument could be made for any of those. Great literature has a way of revealing the natural conclusion of our own deepest-held hopes, fears and beliefs. I daresay it's not the book that is messed up; it's us.
Also, I agree with the folks who've said that kids have a way of taking the story at face value. I remember reading this as a kid and being intrigued. It didn't make me more selfish. It didn't make me more selfless. It didn't make me more or less able to love unreservedly. But it did make me think about the issues. I read it to my kids for that reason.