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A CONTROVERSIAL Classic to promote family discussion
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.