Posted by: michelle @ books my kids read | September 22, 2009

the giving tree

Everyone has read Shel Silverstein’s classic “the giving tree,” right? As Wikipedia quickly summarizes,

The Giving Tree is a tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree in a forest. The tree always provides the boy with what he wants: branches on which to swing, shade in which to sit, apples to eat, branches with which to build a home. As the boy grows older he requires more and more of the tree. The tree loves the boy very much and gives him anything he asks for. In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the tree lets the boy cut her down so the boy can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump. Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns and the tree says, “I have nothing left to give you.” The boy replies, ” I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest.” The tree then says, “Good! A tree stump is a great place to do just that! Come boy, sit down and be happy.” The boy obliged and the tree was happy.

The munchkin has started to read this and while I love that we are moving to a wider variety of stories, I have issues with this book.  I’m not going to keep her from reading it, but there is this little nagging voice in my head when we read it.

Three years ago when I was newly pregnant with the munchkin we traveled to Boston for a wedding and I needed to buy a good friend a gift for her new bundle of joy. I went into a book store and actually specifically looked for this book. I hadn’t read it in years, but I had incredibly fond memories of it. It had such an impact on me and my brother that he was going to read it at my grandmother’s funeral (he didn’t b/c he was just too emotional). So there I was at a bookstore in Boston and I read the giving tree for the first time in years. It pissed me off. Here was this story basically showing the relationship of parent and child with the parent as a martyr giving everything to the child and getting nothing in return. Not even a thank you!

So I started to look around on the web and there are a lot of people who have felt the same way. One big issue that I have is the whole martyr thing. Mom’s Musings put it very well:

Sacrifice is part of any long term successful relationship. However, there are limits, and when a child, spouse, friend, or any other person begins taking, taking, taking without so much as a grudging “thank you,” it’s time (past time) to back off or to set some boundaries.

It is important to set limits. I wouldn’t put this book into the worst books ever category, which a ton of people have, but at some point, you want to also counteract the martyr part of the story with the lessons that you need to say thank you, you need to give back to others and that it isn’t all about you and your happiness.

For now though, I’m going to enjoy listening to my 2 year old read this book where the tree has both apples and bananas.


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