In Shel Silverstein’s photos, he looks more sailor/ adventurer than a writer of poems and stories for children.Shel was a man of many, many parts -artist, poet, musician, guitarist, singer, pianist, observer.Shel wanted to share his stories with children and sometimes that was difficult. Shel’s enduring and endearing classic ‘The Giving Tree‘ was one such.
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“Everybody loved it, they were touched by it, they would read it and cry and say it was beautiful. But . . . one publisher said it was too short. . . .” Some thought it was too sad. Others felt that the book fell between adult and children’s literature and wouldn’t be popular. It took Shel four years before Ursula Nordstrom, the legendary Harper & Row editor, decided to publish it. She even let him keep the sad ending, Shel remembered, “because life, you know, has pretty sad endings. You don’t have to laugh it up even if most of my stuff is humorous.”
In The Giving Tree, a tree gives all she can to a little boy who grows to be an old man. She is his companion and comfort even though he is not always around.
Once there was a tree….
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
As time passes the boy grows older and is in need of other things than climbing trees.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, “Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy.”
“I am too big to climb and play” said
“I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?”
With each passing year, the boy wants more and the tree willingly gives what she has, till she is no more than a stump. The boy, now an old man seeks no more from the tree but a place to rest .
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry….”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy.
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
“well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.
Readers can draw so many parallels to real life instances. Shel believed that in all relationships one person give and the other takes. This might seem exploitative, but as we see in The Giving Tree, some people are happy giving to their object of love. Parenthood is perhaps the best example we see around, where there is willing giving.
The Giving Tree is a worthwhile addition to a child’s library, one that will make him think about both giving and taking.
Listen to Shel Silverstein’s reading of the Giving Tree and watch the animation for this poem parable.
This year The Giving Tree celebrates its 5oth anniversary. Join the celebration by getting your own copy here.