Mighty Oak Raped by Aging Megalomaniac

In a recent post, I mentioned that I am a crier; as an example, I mentioned that I bawled like a baby when I tried to read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to my girls.

Here’s the recap:

About a year ago, I saw the book on the library shelf and called the girls to me excitedly. We snuggled on the squishy library couch, I open the book and read the first two pages, “Once there was a tree. . .and she loved a little boy.” Already I heard my voice begin to thicken, the lump rising in my throat. Belly looked at me in alarmed amusement—she is quite used to my weeping over children’s stories—and said, “Mommy, you don’t have to read this now.” But, I persisted and choked through the rest of the pages.

By the time I got to the last few pages, tears were openly streaming down my face and I practically hiccuped the last few lines out. I don’t think the girls had any idea what this story was about; they just know it made mommy dissolve.

When I first read The Giving Tree, before I had kids, I had no idea that some people hated this story. It wasn’t until I went to buy this book as a gift for a friend that I happened upon the controversy.

Check out the comments on Amazon. One recent reviewer screams, “Poison! Poison! Poison!” Someone else says, “it is a cautionary tale for people considering entering an abusive relationship”. Someone else claims, “a terrible thing to be teaching to children!”

‘Scuze me?

Now, on the off chance that you have not read The Giving Tree, let me give a brief overview: a little boy visits a tree every day to play, and they love each other very much. As he grows, he sees her less often. Each time he returns, he has a need and the tree fills it for him, whether it be giving him apples to sell for money or its branches to build a house for his family. By the end, the tree is just a stump and the boy is an old, old man but somehow they both find comfort in each other.

I suppose if you examine this book very literally, it could be disturbing. Yes, the boy/man does take and take from the tree, and by the end, the tree has given him everything she has. However, I do not see this as a call for children to bleed their parents dry, or for men to abuse women.

Instead, I am reminded of how a child’s relationship with his parents (or other parental figure) changes with time. If I am supposed to represent the tree, right now, the boy is young. I am his best friend, confidante, playmate. I offer stability, security, food and fun.

As the boy grows, though, he will rely on me less for companionship. I will mourn the separation but will be thrilled with the reunions. I will still do what I can to make him happy.

After I am dead (a stump), there will be very little I can do for my grown boy. Here, I just hope that my memory can offer comfort in his final hours.

Is this what Shel Silverstein meant? I have no idea. But, this is the story that flashes in my head when I drop my girls off for a playdate, or watch them run away from me on a playground to play with other kids. It is what I think of when my four-year-old asks me for some ‘pwivacy pweez‘.

And then, I look down at my own little boy who is still by my side, and smile.


  1. Mary Alice says

    Oh my gosh that was a beautiful post. You made ME cry now. And you made me feel sorry for being annoyed with my children for eating the entire mega box of granola bars and letting their wet swimsuits drip on the floor. I am blessed to have children. Being annoyed proves that I am alive and blessed with children and now I have to cry and drink coffee a pot of coffee. Thanks for the reminder about the meaning of parenting… sniff, snuff.

  2. Oh shoot, now you’ve got me crying too.

    I have to leave to go pick mine up from school in about 5 minutes. I think I have to give them an extra big hug and kiss today. (The squishy kind that makes 6 year old boys squirm away and say Mo-ommmmm.)

  3. Oh, The Joys says

    I think the reason the book is so good is that it forces these questions for us.

  4. Thanks for the morning cry. Except for the title which made me laugh out loud.

  5. AnotherMomCreation says

    Ok, I am a cryer too, but when I read this book I didn’t cry. Of course your post, has me weaping at the keyboard!

    Like you, I saw the tree as a mother figure, always giving, never asking in return for anything. Just enjoying company. Perhaps those who think otherwise are not parents or are just crazies!

    I loved the title of your post.
    Thanks for posting this.

  6. Mrs. Chicky says

    That darn book makes me cry every time too. I never understood the controversy, but I suppose they have a small point. However, I think those who have a real problem with that book aren’t parents.

  7. Blog Antagonist says

    You know…I always felt a little disconcerted by that book, but could never put my finger on why. I had no idea there was such a controversial subtext, but it kind of makes sense. I can’t presume to guess what Shel Silverstein meant, but I like your interpretation very much.

    BTW, I cry everytime I read “I’ll Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch. I can barely get through it.

  8. nuttnbunny says

    100% – I remember this from my childhood and feel my tears welling as I type. In that perfect way that feels good and rich and full.


  9. Kymberlyn says

    I love this book and I cry even now when I read it to my children. Perhaps I am fool, but this book has always a held a profound lessen as to who we are as a society. Very few of us give without the expectation of something in return. However we have no problem taking from other people and taking from mother nature, always hoping they have a little more to give. This book reminds me I need to be a better person.

    Pooh on those people at Amazon!Thank you for the great post 🙂

  10. You explained this so beautifully!

    I never knew about any issues until the message board wags pointed it out to me a couple years ago. To me it’s a beautiful story about how giving can make you feel good even if you get nothing in return. I wonder if it were about a little girl and a tree if people would see it differently.

  11. Jen Magnuson says

    LOVED this post! And I am right there with you – I would have been warbling my way through the whole book.

  12. Lovely post. The little guy got this book as a christening gift. I clearly remember sitting at the dining room table, after all the guests had left and we finally cleaned up, reading this book and SOBBING. Hubby came down the stairs and was frightened because I couldn’t even talk– hiccupping and sputtering– and just pointed to the book. After reading this story for so many years, I never really got the meaning until I became a parent. We never really know unconditional love until we have a child. I am now that tree, and while I hope our kids don’t just visit when they need fruit or to cut off our branches, I know we’d give until we were just old stumps. Sigh…

  13. Jennifer Playgroupie says

    I agree, it’s a great book! I had no idea there was such contraversy about it.

    Great post!

  14. Gray Matter Matters says

    I have a 7 year old and have become more and more acutely aware of how the fruitless tree, the trunk, and finally the stump feels. I see him moving further and further away from me each day while my love for him grows and grows. I wish I could grab him and hold on to him forever, unfortunately I can’t, I’m a stump. Love your post, I’m adding you to my site.

  15. Okay, I like *your* interpretation and it rather redeems Silverstein for me, too. I like his other stuff, but this book, I admit has never been one I liked. Not before kids, not since kids. And I promise, I’m not a cruel, unloving parent (no really, I’m not!) I just rather hope that my sons grow up to be givers, not takers. I didn’t mind the tree being so giving, I just hated that the boy/man never really seemed to get it.

    But, whenever I hear of it from now on, I’ll think of “stump” as “after I’m dead” rather than when I’m destitute in a nursing home and that’ll be a little better. ;-D

  16. Awwww man…that story always makes me cry *sniff*

  17. Ruth Dynamite says

    I can’t make it through Scooby Doo books without getting all choked up. My kids laugh at me, and I just sit there and try to breathe, so caught up in the emotion of Shaggy’s moment, or Velma’s brilliance. Once, when I was substitute teaching for a class of first graders, I read The Velveteen Rabbit and you know what happened. (“I AM real” said the bunny.) Afterwards, I asked the kids what they thought, and one kid raised his hand and said, “You were CRYING!”

    Yeah. Shel Silverstein rocks and anyone who doesn’t get it simply doesn’t.

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge