The Best Children’s Books, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 13 2011 @ 11:08am


A reader writes:

I'm surprised by the reactions of some of your readers to The Giving Tree, one of my favorite books. Reactions like "the book presents [the tree giving until it has nothing left] as a good thing" and telling children "don't ever grow up to be that tree" seem to miss the point of the book – wildly.

I won't claim to know what Mr. Silverstein's intentions were, but art is in what viewers and readers see, not what the artist intended – and it boggles my mind that any readers have reactions like the ones you posted. The message of the book is clearly, "Don't ever grow up to be like that boy" – and it screams it pretty loudly! 

Every scene reiterates that the boy does not give the tree what it needs and asks (climb on me, play with me), takes only what he wants, and makes it plain he hurts what he supposedly loves. I almost can't see how it could be any clearer a statement against unbridled selfishness! I mean the book is simply heartbreaking, because the boy is so damn cruel.  How can this be missed?  I proudly read the book to my daughter and trust she understands the anti-selfishness message well.

To me, it's as if someone cautioned against reading Little Red Riding Hood to their children and pointed out their need to say, "Don't ever be like that wolf!"

Another writes:

Of course it's a depressing book. The problem isn't Silverstein, the problem is all the hippies (like me) who thought it was so sweet 30 years ago. It's not sweet – it's as horrible as the real world. He just uses the cute cartoon/children's book format to present a horrible reality. 

So welcome to the world, kiddies. And when you grow up, try not to turn out like that little shit.

(Photo via Matt Stopera)