In today’s fast-paced, highly-competitive, technology-centric world, it’s not uncommon for people to reach a tipping point. When I feel like I have nothing left to give, I turn to a childrens’ classic: The Giving Tree by Shel SilverStein.
“Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves ….” So begins the tale of a few words, illustrated with simple line drawings, published in 1964 as SilverStein’s second book, which had a rough beginning. In a Chicago Tribune story, the author shared the difficult time he had trying to get the book published. “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.” However, after four years, Ursula Nordstrom, an editor at Harper Children’s books, decided to not only publish it, but let SilverStein keep the sad ending, which he explained: “because life, you know, has pretty sad endings. You don’t have to laugh it up even if most of my stuff is humorous.”
Over the years, many have embraced The Giving Tree, as a children’s classic for young readers age four to eight. High school teachers have taught the book to junior and senior students in Advanced Placement English classes.
The story is a simple about the unconditional love of a tree for a boy. People seem to love it or hate it. Undoubtedly, The Giving Tree has sparked controversial debates, philosophical discussions and interesting literary reviews from both secular and religious perspectives. Some believe it presents a metaphor for the unconditional love a mother has for her children, or in Christianity, presents the love God has for humans. Some say it portrays the issue of taking versus giving; raising the question is complete self sacrifice good or considerably sad? Some say it relays the message that it takes something to make someone happy, yet the definition of what that something may be is open for interpretation. Others see it as a distressing parable of a co-dependent, single-sided, selfish relationship. Still others see the tree as a willing accomplice.
Nonetheless, The Giving Tree has experienced world success with translations in approximately 30 languages.