It's funny how adults can't see the forest for the trees... Children take things at face value, and this is a good thing. The book is entitled "The Giving Tree" and that's exactly what it's about. Unconditional Love is something that AMERICANS are trying very hard to destroy. If you'll notice, most of the negative reviews are written by americans... sad really. This book is had a very Christian attitude about it, not fake Christian, true Christian. If someone strikes your cheek, turn and offer the other. That is also unconditional love. If we all learned the lesson of this book, to give as long as you have something to give, then we would all be very happy. Instead many people concentrate on the taking boy. It shows that ultimately the taking boy is unhappy, yet the Giving Tree is ultimately very happy. We've decided to label good values as Clichés. "It is better to give than to receive" may be a cliché, but it is not clichéd. It is MORE important today than ever, because we are so far removed from this sentiment. People call this "co-dependence" but it's not. The giving tree is not giving to get something in return, she is simply giving because she feels good to give. She does get something in return though after all. The good feeling of giving.
You shouldn't use labels like "AMERICANS" when it obviously does not mean the same thing to everyone. The issue that you are running into is that there was a bit of a scandal where radical left teachers were reading children the book and then drawing parallels to socialism and anti-capitalism in their explanation to children. So now many American parents have a knee jerk reaction to the book, even though the book has absolutely nothing to do with radical socialism. Parents send their young kids to school to learn how to socialize in a constructive way through art, play, etc. Not to be indoctrinated into someone's non-mainstream fantasy ideology. This book has something constructive for children to learn, if presented appropriately. Any thing can be used as a prop to represent some odd idealogy, this book just happened to be a victim and is just now finally recovering from that taint as a new parents, who aren't aware of the political garbage that surrounded this book over a decade ago in the "right-wing" media, start reading it to their children.
I understand this book in a different way. Whether intentional or not, I think this book has a strong Buddhist theme.
The basic tenet of Buddhism is that attachment, be it to other people, things, etc., leads inevitably to suffering. The story makes plain how both the boy and the tree suffer from attachment- the boy to all of his wants, and the tree in its attachment and selfless sacrifice to the boy (which to me strikes more of codependency than real love).
"Poor Shel" my foot! Despite its title, the book is about nothing but THE TAKING BOY. One doesn't need to resort to boilerplate about co-dependency or dysfunctional relationships to see the problem here. Are young kids going to intuit ironic undercurrents that even some adult comentators haven't a clue to? Will children grasp that the story is really (get this) an allegory of Buddhist "non-attachment"? Perhaps we might make the stretch involved to read the tree as symbol of an unconditionally loving mother, but what sinks that approach is that the child never recognizes the parent's self-sacrifice and just continues to TAKE unconditionally while expressing no love in return. Behavior that might be considered endearing at the age of five is something very different at the age of fifty; didn't this "boy" ever learn anything? To hell with Shel -- he's either sadistic or stupid -- and what does being American (or not) have to do with how one interprets his nasty little parable?
You are right--the boy didn't learn anything until it was too late. However, the children who read this book can learn this lesson and therefore not make the same mistake the boy did. That is the point--it is lesson in what "could happen" if you live your life a certain way. Wouldn't it be nice for all those lessons to really sink in before it's too late--like it was for the boy in this book?