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And the tree was happy, but not really: A 35 year old reflects...
, December 25, 2005
This review is from: The Giving Tree (Hardcover)
I've been a Shel Silverstein admirer since I first received Where the Sidewalk Ends as a first grader back in 1976. The way Silverstein combines stark sketches with punchy language and ideas could woo almost any child.
As with most of his work, what makes it funny or appealing is his ability to write about humans at their most vulnerable or disillusioned states (poems like "The Land of Happy," "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout," "Jumping Rope" come to mind), and kids love that raw edge to him. The Giving Tree, however, is surprisingly subversive. It looks purely sweet at first, seeming to be about a love between a tree and a boy, and the beauty of doing anything for someone you love.
But it is TRAGIC. The tree ends up with nothing (she's a stump for him to eventually sit on), and the boy ends up an unhappy and lonely old man who has exploited (devestated) something he once loved.
Now, thirty years after my first reading of it, I'm not sure where I stand. This book was meaningful to me as a child--there was complexity in it, in giving and taking and paying consequences (and the pictures evoked great emotion). On the other hand, an obvious and simple message it could send is that it is good to give (and to take) at all cost.
In the end, I don't think the book should be avoided, by any means, because of its seemingly "selfless" message, but I do think it should be discussed (even in simple terms with the smallest child) as an eye-opening rendering of the danger of giving too much and losing yourself in the process.
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