The Giving Tree

‘Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.’

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.

To say that this particular apple tree is a “giving tree” is an understatement. In Shel Silverstein’s popular tale of few words and simple line drawings, a tree starts out as a leafy playground, shade provider, and apple bearer for a rambunctious little boy. Making the boy happy makes the tree happy, but with time it becomes more challenging for the generous tree to meet his needs. When he asks for money, she suggests that he sell her apples. When he asks for a house, she offers her branches for lumber. When the boy is old, too old and sad to play in the tree, he asks the tree for a boat. She suggests that he cut her down to a stump so he can craft a boat out of her trunk. He unthinkingly does it. At this point in the story, the double-page spread shows a pathetic solitary stump, poignantly cut down to the heart the boy once carved into the tree as a child that said “M.E. + T.” “And then the tree was happy… but not really.” When there’s nothing left of her, the boy returns again as an old man, needing a quiet place to sit and rest. The stump offers up her services, and he sits on it. “And the tree was happy.” While the message of this book is unclear (Take and take and take? Give and give and give? Complete self-sacrifice is good? Complete self-sacrifice is infinitely sad?), Silverstein has perhaps deliberately left the book open to interpretation. (All ages) –Karin Snelson

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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3 Comments

  1. A children’s book which never loses its power 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…

  2. And the tree was happy, but not really: A 35 year old reflects… 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. 

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