July 21, 2009

The Giving Tree...

... is a pathetic sadsack:
[Shel] Silverstein had a dark sensibility and a wicked sense of humor. Maybe he set out to write a bleak fable about kids who selfishly milk their elders for every drop they've got. Is it possible that he finished the manuscript, looked at it with satisfaction, and said to himself, Yep, that boy sure was a bastard?


knox said...

I didn't like The Giving Tree even as a kid. Very sad and depressing.

Bridge to Terabithia, as I've said before, has to be one of the most preachy and contrived kids' books ever.

john said...

I like Shel's books. The Rainbow Fish, however, was very pukey preachy book my kids always wanted read to them, but mostly just to feel the scales.

ricpic said...

Silverstein lives on the upper westside, where else? and the one thing I remember from a TV biography about him (PBS?) was a segment in which he was interviewed in his apartment, one of those three bedroom to die for pre WW II jobs. Anyway, the startling thing about the apartment was that all the walls were naked: no pictures, no wall hangings, nothing. When asked why, Silverstein said that he left the walls unadorned because he couldn't think of anything that he genuinely wanted to put on them. I don't know what that means but it struck me forcibly at the time. So I'm sharing.

Fred4Pres said...

Rainbow Fish totally sucks. I gave that piece of crap away. But I strangly liked Pokey Little Puppy even though it is not that good. The Giving Tree fell somewhere in between.

I still love Where The Wild Things Are, Fur Family, Color Kittens, Runaway Bunny, and Goodnight Moon.

Salamandyr said...

I must have missed the really horrid books as a child.

When I was really little my favorite book was Walter the Wolf. Its' message holds up I think. You're not perfect, and you're responsible for the way you act, not your nature or your friends. Good thing to teach kids.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm with knox; that book creeped me out as a kid. I don't want to be that doormat tree, and I don't want to be that jerk kid either...

NKVD said...

He might live on the upper west side, but he has been dead for 10 years.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Isn't the rainbow fish the one that had to mutilate itself in order to be acceptable to its friends? They couldn't stand the fact that it was born with something they weren't. What a horrible story.

B to T scarred my daughter for life, as did The Giver.

I love Silverstein's poetry and have ever since I was a little girl and we used to check Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls out of the school library. IIRC, it began with a Silverstein poem.

Nothing to do?
Nothing to do?
Put some mustard in your shoe.
Fill your pockets up with soot.
Drive a nail into your foot.
Put some sugar in your hair.
Place your toys upon the stair.

...And so forth. Loved that book.

You know Silverstein wrote the words and music for "A Boy Named Sue", and also "The Cover Of the Rolling Stone".

Fred4Pres said...

I found Edith and Mr. Bear to be a very strange series of books. Dare Wright's photographs are striking and the actual scenes in NYC work well. My daughters liked the books, but there is something odd about the relationship of Edith and Mr. Bear.

Fred4Pres said...

Actually it is the Lonely Doll series.

knox said...

B to T scarred my daughter for life, as did The Giver.

It's all about The Message, not whether it's appropriate for kids, or even *god forbid* fun to read. About ten yrs ago, I thought I'd go on a mission to read all the Newberry winners. I gave up after a while. An awful lot of them are sneakily preachy or depressing. Trying too hard to be Important. I did enjoy "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh."

I thought, "No wonder kids would rather play video games."

Oligonicella said...

I much prefer kid's stories that teach the concept of making the correct decisions or suffering the consequences.

Big Mike said...

The Giving Tree may have been a POS, I don't know having never read it. But Shel Silverstein deserves immortality for writing his poem "The Slithergadee:"

The Slithergadee
has crawled out of the sea.
He may catch all the others,
but he won’t catch me.

No you won’t catch me,
old Slithergadee,
You may catch all the others,
but you wo–

Big Mike said...

PS. FWIW wikipedia says Silverstein died in 1999.

Donn said...

I remember seeing The Giving Tree as the opening (cartoon) feature to Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I was there with my roommate and our two girlfriends, and of course we were stoned. When the tree got down to being a stump, my roommate stood up, threw out his pelvis, and said out loud...."I've got a stump for you!" Of course, we all laughed hysterically!

Joan said...

Oh, I loved The Giver, but then again, I was in my 40s my when I read it. My son was in 6th grade when he read it and he enjoyed it, but he hated Terabithia. BTW, most people think the end of the Giver is a downer, and the boys die, but the boys reappear in The Messenger. All three Lowry books (add Gathering Blue) are terrific reads.

A lot of Seuss is preachy: Butter Battle Book, The Lorax, etc. He has such a dim view of humanity, it's depressing. The earlier books full of nonsense and rhymes were much more fun.

I hate the Berenstain Bears in all their incarnations. The kids are brats and the father is an idiot. Ick.

Bissage said...

Shel Silverstein was a great cartoonist. In this there can be no reasonable quarrel. However, when it comes to reciprocal love between human and tree, the final word is had by the late, great B. Kliban and his masterpiece “Jimmy the Log.”

It is not on the internet (and frankly, I’m too intoxicated at present to figure out how to scan my copy) but it was first published in THIS issue of Playboy magazine.

Suffice it to say that Jimmy was an unambitious log who spent most of his time dozing in the forest. A beautiful princess has been searching for frogs to kiss. She grows tired so she decides to rest a bit by hoisting up her skirt and sitting on him.

“It was sort of like a magical kiss, so in a few minutes Jimmy turned into a handsome but dull young man.”

The King and his men happen by and misinterpret everything.

It does not end well for Jimmy.

The moral of the story is: “It is better to sleep like a log than to have a bad sex life.”

The End.

ricpic said...

NKVD - Okay, Silverstein lived on the upper west side. All I know is he was alive when I saw the TV bio. Alive or dead I think it's interesting that he lived by choice in a bare walled apartment.

Skeptical said...

If you assume that the Giving Tree is just a book with the moral "be giving of yourself, regardless of the consequences," then it will look like a POS. If it is just a story, to be thought about, toyed with in your head, seeing the various sides, the different goods and evils involved, then it holds up pretty well.

But a lot of the poems are sublime. My six year old can bring down the house with a recitation of the poem "Dreadful," which begins "Someone ate the baby, I'm rather sad to say" and concludes with "I simply can't imagine who would go and (burp) eat the baby."

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Oh, we had a bunch of those growing up. Don't know who wrote this one:

In the family drinking well
Willie pushed his sister Nell.
She's there yet because it kilt her.
Now we have to buy a filter.

See, I remember it 40 years later.

Chip Ahoy said...

Children's books should pop-up, with lots of pull tabs, secret flaps, wheels, texture and color, you know, for a wondrous tactile experience, and not just all those stupid words.

Last week I bought Horton Hears a Who in pop-up form. Pop-ups by David Carter. It's pretty good but most of the mechanisms are the same idea repeated. Lots of mechanisms but not that much variety in imaginative mechanical ideas. Still, it's very good.

I also bought the Narnia Chronicles, pop-ups by Robert Sabuda et al. This book totally blows me away. I am so humbled. There are only seven main pages representing the separate tales, but it's all mostly there in summation if not the full stories. The mechanisms are all extraordinary and four of the pages have subordinate pages with smaller supplemental pop-ups that are also extraordinary, so that's eleven total stupendous pop-ups. I'm studying them intently. Right now I'm trying to make the owl and its clamping beak is rather tricky. Both these books are a bargain at twice the cost so you should buy them. Buy them, I said.

Scott M said...

My wife loves the GT and we've gone through two copies with our kids.

I, on the other hand, can't really stand the theme. And, frankly, it's got a picture of the author on the cover that could scare a Nosferatu.

Brent said...

Careful here.

My wife fell in love with me while I read out loud to her Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends". She loved all of the poems in the book, including "(Dreadful)Someone Ate the Baby" (Wink at Skeptical above).

Until we had our first child. Then, for some reason, she lost her sense of humor about that one.

Penny said...

"The moral of the story is: “It is better to sleep like a log than to have a bad sex life.”"


"It is better to leap like a frog than to croak like one."

Alex said...

As Ben Jackson, a professor of Religious Studies at Stanford University put it:
“ Is this a sad tale? Well, it is sad in the same way that life is depressing. We are all needy, and, if we are lucky and any good, we grow old using others and getting used up. Tears fall in our lives like leaves from a tree. Our finitude is not something to be regretted or despised, however; it is what makes giving (and receiving) possible. The more you blame the boy, the more you have to fault human existence. The more you blame the tree, the more you have to fault the very idea of parenting. Should the tree's giving be contingent on the boy's gratitude? If it were, if fathers and mothers waited on reciprocity before caring for their young, then we would all be doomed.

Joe said...

I wanted to like Silverstein, and tried many times, but never managed it.

Chris said...

The Missing Piece is similarly weird and depressing.

NKVD said...


We were partial to:

Little Willie dressed in sashes
Fell in the fire and burned to ashes
The room grew cold, the room grew chilly
Because no one wanted to stir up Willie.

Good times...

NKVD said...

Didn't mean to scold, but when it comes to the UWS, sometimes the people look like cadavers, only slightly more animated.

Kathy said...

I do not allow Rainbow Fish or Berenstein Bears in my house. RF has a terrible message--the other fish treat RF horribly, bullying him, and the "adults" back them up, so that in the end RF is forced to rip off his own scales and give them away in order to pay off the bullies. And Berestein Bears are awful for the reasons already mentioned.

Kathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
prairie wind said...

There's nothing worse than Max Lucado books for children. Painful to read...sort of like trying to smile while someone hits you upside the head with a sledge hammer. Christianity deserves better.

My favorite children's book is Elbert's Bad Word.

jayne_cobb said...

I always found "the Giving Tree" depressing; but given that he wrote "A boy named Sue" I think I can forgive him.

Incidentally the sidewalk ended just a few blocks from my home growing up.

MadisonMan said...

Runaway Bunny and The Little Island -- I think that's what is was called. Loved them.

I like the Mrs. Bindergarten books, too -- so did my kids. And anything Kevin Henkes wrote.

Fred4Pres said...

Beatrix Potter is good too. I like that the old farmer is trying to kill bunnies for some tobaccy money--

how evil is that! And Squirrel Nutkin is a little bugger who deserves everything he gets.

And I love Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson fairly tales. And Arabian Nights. Those stories all have dark dark themes, but generally seem healthy for kids to read.

Freeman Hunt said...

I get that the tree is supposed to be like a parent, willing to sacrifice absolutely everything for the child, but it's not a parents' book, it's a children's book.

Penny said...

All worked perfectly well for us, Fred. Not so sure about the current crop?

They're ragging on Shel Silverstein, for cripes sake.

srfwotb said...

As we speak I have a recently unearthed LP (yes, LP) of children's tales before me and am debating whether to go to someone's house who still has a turntable to hear the Voice of the Troll Under the Bridge one last time to get over my inner 3-yr-old's PTSD.

It really did terrify me. It was the combination of the character *and* the rather harsh English accent.

Fred4Pres said...

I am not sure if any books were harmed...but can we say nutty in death as in life?

Wriiight said...

You want harsh preachy messages, nothing beats the old classic Hans Christian Anderson stories. Wear red shoes in church, be cursed to a lifetime torture of dancing unless you repent, convince the executioner to chop off your feet, commit yourself to servitude, then you'll earn the privilege of dying young with your soul intact.

And I, for one, greatly prefer what Disney did to the Little Mermaid over the original.

Fred4Pres said...

Okay this is more young teens and tweens than children books, but since Bridge to Terabithia was raised, what the heck. I have not read Twilight, although I did see the movie, but apparently some people see LDS symbolism in that book series.

Which makes me think that the series may be worth reading, although I doubt it will be as good as American Gods.

Fred4Pres said...

Here's the link.

Fred4Pres said...

The first link is from more Evangelical perspective, this one is from an LDS perspective.

Twilight the Great Mormon Novel?

Shanna said...

But a lot of the poems are sublime.

Indeed! I loved the poems as a kid!

Captain hook must never pick his nose.

Shanna said...

Thanks for the Twilight Preaches Mormonism link. I wondered about a few things when I heard the author was a mormon - mostly I just credit that for the couple getting married before they had sex.

Sofa King said...

Maybe someone should make a children's book out of Atlas Shrugged.

Okay, maybe just Anthem.

Heather said...


I was just thinking about this poem. When I was a kid thought the boy was an uncaring jerk. And the story was a metaphor man's use of nature.

As an adult, I think someone should get the tree a copy of "He's Just Not That Into You."

blake said...

Shel's poems were great.

I remember reading this book at a pretty young age, over and over. (It takes maybe a minute to read.)

I always felt weird. I think Freem is right: It's because, as a child, it puts you in an untenable position (if you identify with it).