We had a guest reader in afternoon kindergarten today. She brought one of the Shel Silverstein books, The Giving Tree. He is one of my favorite children's authors, but I always have mixed feelings about The Giving Tree.
It's a story about a tree who loves a little boy. The boy enjoys climbing her branches, eating her apples, and sleeping in her cool shade. The boy grows up, as boys will, and returns less and less often. So far it sounds a lot like Puff and Little Jackie Paper, right?
The boy is never happy on his return visits to his childhood friend and always seems to need something--he's a bit of a user.
The tree is always happy to help him, sharing her apples to for him to sell, her branches to use as lumber for his house, and even her trunk so he can build a boat to sail during his mid-life crisis. All she has left is an old stump--yet, even so, she is happy to have helped.
It winds up aptly enough with the boy too toothless to eat apples, too stiff to climb and too tired to go adventuring. At that point, all he needs is a place to sit and rest. Voila! The stump is gladly shared.
Is it just me? Did I totally lose the metaphor behind this? Is this supposed to be a sweet story about unselfish love and devotion? 'Cause I sure don't see it that way.
I have no problem with her sharing an renewable resource with him. Millions of us give to charity as well we should. Helping the less fortunate is nothing less than right and proper. Turning to a friend when we need a helping hand is fine.
The sacrifice of her branches for his house is incredibly generous. I don't know how many of us would make a sacrifice that would permanently impact our well-being. But doesn't it seem to make him a heartless user? Why doesn't he have some sentimental feelings towards the branches that cradled him during his youthful days of play? And the illustrations make it clear that he doesn't merely prune a few to construct his home; he takes them all, leaving behind a trunk that makes the slash-and-burn ethic of farmers in the rainforest look pretty harmless.
Besides, what's keeping him from going out and getting a job and earning the money for a house? Slacker.
Then Mr. Mid-life Crisis comes and actually accepts her trunk so he can look for happiness. She's left bereft. Hey, I can't even comment on this one; it's just beyond belief to me. My jaw just flaps in the breeze. At this point, it's obvious that he's not ever going to be happy anyway.
Okay... maybe that is the point. He takes, takes, takes and never once gives and is never happy. Whereas the tree is a giver and both happy and content. Rotten moral.
I think the tree undervalues herself. Doesn't she deserve some love? Is it right to make sacrifice after sacrifice? Can't she recognize the grown kid is a leech? Does that make her an enabler?
I'm going on record here--the boy could have used a little tough love as he grew. Something along the lines of the Whomping Willow would be overkill, but not by much.
I envision a story where the boy learned to work hard instead of whining, lived in a nice brick structure with his family and brought his children back to the tree to climb and play and nap after a nice snack of healthy fresh organic apples. Nature benefits, the boy matures, his children get to experience a part of his childhood, the world prospers: a full circle of appreciation and enjoyment.
I don't know. Maybe it's thoughts of Earth Day creeping up on me. Maybe it's just because it's my job to get my kindergartners ready for the challenges of first grade no matter how adorable they are. Who knows?
I'll take Where the Sidewalk Ends instead, anytime, anywhere.