Our book of November is The Giving Tree! It is an American children’s picture book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. First published in 1964 by Harper & Row, it has become one of Silverstein’s best-known titles, and has been translated into numerous languages. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. Despite the fact that the boy ages in the story, the tree addresses the boy as “Boy” his entire life.
In his childhood, the boy enjoys playing with the tree, climbing her trunk, swinging from her branches, carving “Me + T (Tree)” into the bark, and eating her apples. However, as the boy grows older, he spends less time with the tree and tends to visit her only when he wants material items at various stages of his life. In an effort to make the boy happy at each of these stages, the tree gives him parts of herself, which he can transform into material items. With every stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”.
In the final pages, both the tree and the boy feel the sting of their respective “giving” and “taking” nature. When only a stump remains for the tree, she is not happy, at least at that moment. The boy does return as a tired elderly man to meet the tree once more. She tells him she is sad because she cannot provide him shade, apples, or any materials like in the past. He ignores this and states that all he wants is “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree, who is weak being just a stump, could provide. With this final stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”.
There are numerous interpretations of the book. Some people believe that the tree represents Mother Nature and the boy represents humanity. The book has been used to teach children environmental ethics. A common interpretation of the book is that the tree and the boy have a parent–child relationship, as in a 1995 collection of essays about the book edited by Richard John Neuhaus in the journal First Things.
In a 1999–2000 National Education Association online survey of children, among the “Kids’ Top 100 Books,” the book was 24th. Based on a 2007 online “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children” poll by the National Education Association, the book came in third. By 2011, 8.5 million copies of the book had been sold. It was 85th of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. Scholastic Parent & Child magazine placed it #9 on its list of “100 Greatest Books for Kids” in 2012. As of 2013, it ranked third on a Goodreads list of “Best Children’s Books.”
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