I was an adult when I read it for the first time and tears came to my eyes in the bookstore. It was all Leo Buscaglia’s fault.
I majored in Speech in college and I was captivated by Buscaglia, the man who told the best stories of love and normal family life and finding happiness in a hurting world. In one of his many talks, he mentioned the name Shel Silverstein and referenced the book that many consider the most poignant of all children’s works.
I found it in a bookstore and read it in its entirety, loving the illustrations as much as I did the words.
The book is simple; almost simplistic. At first glance, there is almost nothing to it. It’s about a tree (one that instantly takes on human qualities) that can’t move who “loves a little boy” who can. The boy is a classic boy with non-stop energy and imagination. He is (at first) the story’s protagonist.
Things change as the boy grows and he is exposed as a selfish man who thinks only of himself. Gone is the innocence of his youth where he thinks of the tree as his companion. Instead of feeling cheated by this strange fact, the reader’s attention turns toward the tree, who loves the boy. As much as the tree gives, it is she who is happy – never the boy who is receiving everything she can possibly give.
I read it again today in one scroll down with my mouse. It was lacking the pictures, but it made me remember. I remembered my children, freshly bathed snuggling close to me to hear a few books before bed. Even as an exhausted mother, it was my favorite time of day. Right after the dinner dishes were finished and the kids were squeaky clean and their hair was damp and their eyes sparkled as they carried their choice of books to me for read-aloud time. I always wanted them to pick The Giving Tree, my favorite even then.
The Giving Tree is more than a book; it is a painting of how things work in many relationships where there is one giver and one taker. It is an invitation for the reader to rethink the concept of happiness, forgiveness and identity. It is an explanation of how it is possible to love with a special selflessness, remembering the best about our beloveds. Love, the book tells us, is a wondrous, beautiful thing that costs us everything and makes us happy.
It is seldom the takers who are happy in this world. I love the book for its reinforcement of this fact. It does it over and over again with one line.
And the tree was happy.