When I was a child, probably about 8 or 9 years old, I first read a book that changed my life forever: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. The beauty of this timeless tale is captured in this story about a special connection between a boy and a tree. Pen and ink drawings simply illustrate the one-sided nature of man’s relationship with the environment.
The Giving Tree starts out as a happy tale – a boy regularly visits a tree. He swings on her branches, eats her apples and the tree eagerly awaits the boy’s return each day. As best friends, the boy and the tree spend many hours together. The book is filled with delightful images of The Giving Tree hugging the child with her branches, playing hide-and-go-seek together, and the boy spending a blissful childhood in the forest.
As the boy grows older, he becomes more and more selfish. He continues to take from the tree until she literally has nothing left to give. The Giving Tree even allows herself to be cut down so the boy can build a boat from her trunk and sail around the world. All that is left is a sad, lonely stump. The boy is gone now, pursuing his own dreams and forgetting about all the gifts bestowed by the tree.
Years later, the boy is a very old man. He finds himself back in the forest of his youth and he comes upon the remainder of The Giving Tree. “I have nothing left to give you,” cries the stump, still wanting to dote on the boy she loved so much. The old man replies that all he really needs is a quiet place to rest. And he sits down on the stump, looking sadly into the distance.
There is not a single time I have read this story that I have not cried. The limitless love of The Giving Tree for the boy is akin to that of God, or Mother Nature. It is there for the taking, asking little in return. Even at the young age of a second grader, I could understand the moral of this story. We need to protect our environment and use its resources judiciously, or there will be nothing left. We also need to appreciate the gifts we are given, and be careful not to take more than we give. I strongly believe that every household library should have a copy of The Giving Tree.
If you have children of your own, or if you are a teacher, consider reading The Giving Tree aloud, as in the video above. Hold the book up so that kids can see the imaginative drawings. When you are finished, ask questions – who are you in this story? Are you The Giving Tree or the boy? If you could re-write this story, what would be different? Do you think the book has a happy ending or a sad one?
You may even want to ask yourself – What does The Giving Tree say to you?