Why I Won't Be Reading The Giving Tree to My Child

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I registered for the Giving Tree, having never read it as a child myself.  I know, I know, was a raised under a rock?  How could I have never read the Giving Tree?  It's a classic!  So many people's favorite children's book!

I feel kind of bad writing this now because someone bought it for Baby Buckshot off the registry and left a note saying that it was her personal favorite from when she was a child.  Gifter, if you're reading this, please know that I appreciate the gift regardless and that I will be making good use of it by ranting about it in this blog.

The Giving Tree follows a story of a boy and the tree that loved him from childhood through the elderly years.  At every phase of life, the tree gives and gives and gives while the boy takes and takes and takes with nary a thank you.  Actually, he often comes to the tree at life milestones with his hands out expecting the tree to help him achieve his goals. 

Like when he wants money, instead of getting a job mowing lawns or working a paper route, he is given apples to sell from the tree's branches. When he needs a house, instead of getting and education and/or getting a job so he can earn it, he cuts off the tree's branches (which is really short sighted considering now there will be no more apples) to build a house. Then, he wants a boat but instead of saving money from whatever job he might have had as an adult, he cuts of the tree's trunk so not only are there no more apples, there's no more shade or branches for future houses!  Spoiler alert:  At the end of the book, the boy sits on the trunk, the only thing he has left of the tree.

What I gleaned from this book upon first reading is that this kid needs to learn a little bit more about how trees work because a trunk is basically a dead tree.  Second, where are this kid's parents?!  Why didn't they teach him how to get a job?! 

And hey, Helicopter Tree, have you ever heard to teaching a man to fish instead of giving the fish away for free?  Or you know, however that idiom goes.

I kid, I get symbolism and that we're not supposed to worry about reality in this book's world.  Or you know, the kid is an orphan and was raised by an inanimate object.

Seriously though, this book has been interpreted in many ways from the tree being a parent, God or mother earth.  A symbol of unconditional love, those who count this book amongst their favorites, often say.  But can we as parents not love unconditionally without teaching our children how to be entitled little people who grow up to take advantage of those who love them? 

But I understand, that like many other Light In The Attic fans, we don't want to slight Shel Silverstein.  So I'm going to give Uncle Shel the benefit of the doubt and go with the fan base who believes this was written as a satire.  And, if you want to read the book to your child, or if it's read to your child in the course of their education, a wise friend sent me this story as a counterpoint to make it a learning moment:

The Other Giving Tree by Jacqueline Jackson and Carol Dell

There was once a tree that loved a boy. Beside her stood another tree. She loved the boy, too, and the boy loved both trees, to swing in their branches, eat their apples, smell their blossoms, rest in their shade, and play peek-a-boo with them behind their trunks. And the trees were happy.

Then the boy grew into a youth, and no longer wanted to play in the trees, but to buy things and have fun. "'Can you give me some money?" he asked. “Not money," they replied, “but why don't you gather our apples and sell them?” So the boy did, and the trees were happy to have been able to help him.

The boy stayed away a long time, and when he returned, a man, he was now too busy to respond to their invitation to swing and play. He wanted a house to keep him warm, and to hold a wife and family. "Can you give me a house?" he asked.

“I have no house," said the first tree, “but you may cut off all my branches to build one." And the boy did. But the pile was not large.

"This will not make as big a house as I want," he said to the other tree. "How about you? I need your branches, too.”

“Huh-uh” said the other tree. "Apples, yes, branches, no."

"You are a selfish tree," said the boy, and taking the branches of the first tree, he carried them off.

“I'm happy," said the first tree. "I'm happy, too," said the other tree,

A long while later the boy came back, now a pot-bellied middle-aged man. The trees were glad to see him. “Come boy, come and play," whispered the first tree.

“I'm too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?”

"You can cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the first tree.

"That will not make a very big boat,” said the boy. He looked at the other tree. "How about your trunk, too?"

"Slam off, kid," said the other tree. "If I give you my trunk, I will no longer be a tree."

"You're still as selfish as you ever were," said the boy, and he cut down the trunk of the first tree and carried it off. And the first tree (now a stump) said she was happy, and the other tree said, "So am I.''

After a long time the boy came back again.

The stump said, “I'm sorry, boy, I have no apples to give you, no branches, no shade, no trunk to climb, I have nothing left to give, I am only an old stump. But you can sit on me.''

"That's okay," said the old man, "I'm too old to climb and swing, and 'I haven't any teeth to eat apples. All I need is an old stump to sit on.”

And he sat down, and the stump was happy

But as he was sitting he looked over at the other apple tree.
"There's that selfish tree,” he said, "that wouldn't give me anything after her apples. She's not as happy as you are, is she?”

The stump didn’t answer.

After awhile the sun got very hot. The wood under the boy was hard. The boy looked over at the other tree. Children were swinging on her limbs, the birds were nesting and carolling in her branches, adults were picnicking on the grass, the old folks were resting in her shade. Everyone was laughing and happy.

"Stump,” said the old man, "the sun is too hot, and this seat is too hard for my old bones.”

He got up and crept over to the other tree. “Would you mind,” he said, “if I took just a small corner of your shade, to cool me from the hot sun?”

“Of course not,” said the other tree. “Take all the shade you need.”

So the old man sat down in the shade.

And the stump wept.




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