Customer Reviews: The Giving Tree
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on August 15, 2002
The Giving Tree is a beautiful book about a tree who loves a little boy. In the beginning, the love the two share is enough to make them both happy. As the boy grows older, his needs change and the tree gives him everything in order to help him achieve happiness. When the boy is gone and the tree is left with nothing, she is happy, but not really. Eventually the boy returns and the tree has nothing left to give, but the boy has changed and no longer wants anything from the tree other than the companionship they once shared, and both are happy once again.
I fell in love with this book the first time it was read to me, and my feelings have never changed. As I child I knew it was a sad book, but I didn't know why. Now that I am an adult, I can understand the cost of unconditional love and I know why the tree was sad. The fact that this book inspires so much debate is a testament to the power of Shel Silverstein's writing. There is a lesson in this book and a powerful message. For me, the key point is that in the end, the love the tree had for the boy was vindicated by his return- older, wiser, and more appreciative. My mother bought me this book when I was young because she thought it had a poignant lesson to teach. My mother tells me that the tree is every mother, and that the sadness felt by the tree is the sadness every mother feels when her child grows up and grows apart. She says every mother's hope is that her child will return someday, wanting nothing more than to to sit together in silence and to be happy. Anyone who has ever loved someone enough to let them go will understand the painful choice highlighted in The Giving Tree.
I love this book and I give it to special people in my life to celebrate our friendship. I higly recommend this book to adult and child alike.
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on December 25, 2005
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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on November 28, 2005
There are two extreme ways to interpret this book, as shown by the multiple ratings of 1 and 5.

The first: This is a beautiful and sad story of unconditional love between a tree and a boy, in which the tree is generous and gives of itself to help the boy whenever he is in trouble. The metaphor in this case is that of a mother and a child, or God and a human.

The second: This is a story of a very selfish boy and a tree who loves him. Whenever he is in trouble, he returns to the tree who gives him another part of her self without ever setting limits, even though it makes her sad (and physically damages her) to do so. In this case, you can compare the story to a metaphor of an abusive, codependent relationship.

I can understand both views of this story, but the fact that the second interpretation is just as valid as the first makes me hesitate to recommend this book. Personally, I would NOT buy this book as a gift, or for my own children. If I had this book, I would wait to read it to my children until they reach the recommended 10 years old (or at least 8), and then I would discuss the book and its concepts (selfishness, limit setting/saying NO) with them. "What did you think of this book?" "Do you think that the tree/the boy did the right thing?" "What would you have done differently if you were the tree/the boy?" "If you were the tree, would you have said 'NO' to the boy at any point?"

A story that may be complementary to this one and more appropriate for younger audiences is "Ladies First", also by Shel Silverstein (found in "A Light in the Attic" or "Free to Be, You and Me"), which is about a girl who always gets to be first to do everything, but in the end that is not to her advantage. At least in that book the message is clear that selfishness is not OK.

If you prefer to avoid this type of discussion, you might be better off sticking to one of the MANY childrens' books that are much less controversial and intended only for entertainment.
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on October 26, 2013
Just a great little book. A book that looks like it is written for children, but I really think once one is old enough to see the messages of the words that are seen , and unseen, is when this book reveals its true greatness! It shows a tree something that is strong,tall,aged,has faced many storms in its lifetime,but through it all provides all that it can to care for another. when the boy/teen/man wanted or needed something he always knew were the tree was. but just like so many relationships the male is always around when in NEED. the tree was always willing to provide, losing a part of herself each time. years go by, the tree ages more, losing more of herself, to the one she cares for, then really not much or nothing barely left she now has a need she asks the boy that she has seen less and less but has taken much, to spend time with her and he denies her that as he takes the final part of her physically she can offer, her body, the strength, her spirit never to return again. how many of us are like that tree? always there for someone who you care for, and they for you but they use you like a bank account withdrawal after withdrawal, but never makes a deposit? time to close the account! we can care we can help but do not let someone use you all up. a great book! One that I am proud to have as part of my physical book collection, while others stay on my kindle.( I did not purchase this book through Amazon, It was gifted to me)
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on April 19, 2007
In an interview in the early 60's Silverstein said that he wrote this little book for adults. I remember receiving this book when I was about five years old and it depressed the hell out of me. First off, that ugly little troll of a kid was a brat with a capital B. He later went from being a bratty kid to an ugly, self-centered troll of a man. Talk about taking that little lady (the tree) for a ride! That SOB used her up and used her up but good. And for what? In the end, it didn't even matter and neither one of them were happy. That tree also infuriated me as a kid. Why don't you tell that jerk to take a hike! Why do you let this idiot take advantage of you like this? What kind of friend does that to another friend? The bottom line, this is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. It makes novels like "Crime & Punishment" and "The Jungle" a joy to read. To this day, I still get depressed every time I even see this book. One of my in-laws wanted to buy this book for our new born baby as a gift and I told her that that would be fine as long as it's on his sixteenth birthday.

I know I am going to get a lot of negative votes for this review. Yet, if I can just get one person out there to stop giving their kids this very depressing book to read, then this was worth it. I like the book and I really enjoy most of Silverstein's work. This book is what he is known best for, but unfortunately he has so much other work out there, which is much better and far more conducive for children than this gut-wrenching story. The world is depressing enough as it is. Kids don't need a story like this before they go to bed at night. If they are anything like I was as a child, this book will depress and addle them like no other.
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on August 19, 2004
I began reading the reviews for this book and once I started I couldn't stop. Interpretations abound, from one end of the spectrum to the other, and even those with a mutual delight (or dislike) have many conflicting perspectives about what the moral was meant to be. So I went searching for everything I could discover about the author (whose poems, as well as this book, I've loved since childhood). I uncovered the following:

Shel Silverstein, when asked about this book's meaning, would say no more than this: "It's just a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes." So I'm going to assume those who judge the book (positively or negatively) based on its environmentalist "message" are reading into it more than what the author intended.

Most of us, however, seem to recognize this book as a very human story. Whether we like it or hate it, it resonates with too many to be dismissed as anything else. A number of people reject it as too sad for children (one woman actually stated that children should be joyful and not have "deep thoughts.") Others say that the ending is happy (for various reasons). The author, however, DID consider the ending sad. In an interview, Silverstein said that his editor Ursula Nordstrom let him keep the sad ending "because life, you know, has pretty sad endings. You don't have to laugh it up even if most of my stuff is humorous." Happy endings, magic solutions in children's books, he says, "create an alienation" in the child who reads them. "The child asks why I don't have this happiness thing you're telling me about, and comes to think when his joy stops that he has failed, that it won't come back."

Others rejected the book because of its supposed negative message for girls (that they should give their all to the man in their life) or because of a perceived mockery of women, but NOWHERE in the interviews or stories about him did I find any evidence of this whatsoever. Instead, his friends seemed to think of him as *very* giving, and it appears the friendships he had, he kept. Though many may not know this, Silverstein was accomplished in many other areas, not the least of which was his talent as a song-writer (he wrote "A Boy Named Sue," for example). Anytime someone would offer even the smallest bit of advise that he would use in a song, he would cut them in for *equal* credit on the royalties (from his poorest days to his richest). Now, I don't know if that seems like a small thing to some, but I find it an amazing piece of...what would you call it? I'd say selflessness or at the very least a generous spirit. And after reading everything I could about him, I am convinced that in this story he was definitely intending to portray deep beauty in the tree's giving but with unflinching, if tender, honesty.

In closing, I think former Times entertainment editor Charles Champlin said it best:

"His charming book seems to me to prove again that in art, less is more, and that what is true can always be simply said."
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on August 18, 1999
I read the same symposium that someone else mentioned hereIt set me to thinking about this book (which I still love) in ways Ihadn't before. If you look at this story as the boy's story and not the tree's, it's possible to see it as a cautionary tale. Remember, the Tree keeps saying, "Take this or that, and then you will be happy." But after chidhood, does the boy ever seem happy? Even after he's attained the wife and family he's looked for, he wants to build a boat to sail away, being "too old and sad to play". (Although, in all fairness, maybe tragedy took his spouse from him.) At the end, he looks dejected and worn. Could Shel have been issuing a warning that anyone who does nothing but take will never be truly content? Perhaps if the boy had learned to give in return, he would have had a more contented life.Although I do see the boy as finally learning his lesson toward the end. When he returns to the stump at the end, he has to know that the tree has nothing left to give. But he is finally ready to give the tree the only thing she ever asked of him...companionship. I kinda see in the old man's face a realization of what he's done and a repentance.There's another metaphor for this as well...the metaphor of parent to child. How many children never see or appreciate the sacrifices their parents have made for them till it is too late, or almost too late? This could have been another warning Shel was issuing. END
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on November 23, 2006
Few books are as simple to read and open to interpretation as this children's classic by one of the greats of 20th century children's literature. The story is simple, a boy takes different things from a tree his entire life, the tree gives without question, and at the end, both are together crippled with only each other for company. Out of such a simple story can be drawn many lessons that are appropriate not just for children, but for human beings of all ages. First, total self-sacrifice only leads to happiness as long as those you give to are happy. If the last condition does not hold, then the giver can never truly be happy. Second, always taking will never make you happy, for you will always find something more that you need or want to have. Third, and probably most controversial, this book provides a fitting commentary to the behavior of mankind towards nature. Written in the 1960s at the ascendancy of the modern environmental movement in the USA, the story is a perfect corollary of how man takes from nature for various uses his entire life, without ever thinking of the long term consequences for both him and nature. The tree of course represents nature, as few objects are such a symbol of nature within the American psyche.

Overall, a great book for people of all ages. It is one of those few books that provides morals and lessons for all readers, and each time you reread it, you learn something different.
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on February 7, 2011
I love Shel Silverstein's poetry, but I hate "The Giving Tree". The story is about a self-centered boy/man who takes from, and uses, a tree until the tree is literally destroyed. The boy never reciprocates, and when he's taken almost all he can, he abandons the tree, returning only when he is old and needs something else. The boy never uses creativity or determination to solve his problems, he goes to the tree and whines. The tree is giving to a fault, allowing itself to be a used for what it has to offer, never receiving the love it gives so readily. On a more literal level, the book teaches a terrible lesson about environmental stewardship: trees are here for man's use, not to be admired and protected.

The comparison to the parent-child relationship that many people use to praise this book really bothers me. Parenting the way this tree gives and loves will lead to creating children like this boy: selfish people with a sense of entitlement. A parent gives love, but also receives love from their child. The tree receives no love from this child, despite all she gives. This story isn't just about giving love...the tree doesn't just give love. A parent shouldn't just give a child whatever he/she wants or, when they're older, needs. That will turn a child into a taker, like the little jerk in this book. This story does not teach compassion or responsibility, or even generosity.
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on May 11, 1999
When I read that Shel Silverstein had died today I was deeply saddened. As a child I was raised on Silverstein's uncanny poetry that had the power to unlock my imagination and set me free to believe anything. Growing older, the Giving Tree was the perfect juxtaposition for a young man who was skeptical of the world and not quite sure what life was all about. Above all, in many ways the Giving Tree allowed me to come to an understanding of God. As an atheistic teenager I was forced to write about my belief in God for religious school and found Silverstein's The Giving Tree a fine medium in which to bridge my feelings on life with my understanding of God. Take what you may from this simple story, but let it take you to a place of kindness and a feeling of melancholy and happiness that is so rare and special. Silverstein gave us the power to understand, if only ephemerally, that there is goodness, true goodness. Today the world is a bit less lucky for each of us lost a stump to sit on and a friend to hold our hand.
-Noah Wintroub
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