One of my main passions in life is reading. I studied literature in college and worked in publishing after graduating, and curling up with a good book is one of my favorite things to do, even if it has become something of a luxury since having kids. When I was pregnant with my son my close friends and family all gave me books as gifts, knowing that I would want to instill my love of reading in my children and continued that with my daughter, so much so that we are lucky enough to have a large library of children's books for them to choose from. Every week or so I cycle in new books so they don't get stuck wanting to have the same story read over and over again and for the first time I came across one of my childhood books, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. As I sat down and began to read I instantly remembered the story from when I was little. The green cover, the boy with his hands outstretched waiting for the apple. Written in 1964, this story of the relationship between a boy and a tree has been translated into more than 30 languages and remains a popular children's book. I vaguely remembered the story, but reading it again for the first time as a parent I felt myself feeling emotional over the somewhat sad story. I can blame it on pregnancy hormones (my usual go to in things of this matter) but it was powerful for me to read this story again, about this boy who asks and takes from the tree, who in turn gives selflessly until it has nothing left but a stump for the now grown child to sit on. The tree isn't sad that it has nothing left, it's happy that it can give something, even its humble stump, to the boy. In fact the only time the tree is sad is when it doesn't have anything to offer the boy. I felt bad for the tree, that this selfish boy took everything from it and gave nothing back in return. Many people liken the story to the relationship between children and their parents, some even go so far as to say that the tree is a symbol of an irresponsible parent who has made the child into a selfish person by giving and giving without asking for anything in return. Some people think that the story is an example of the selflessness of being a parent, that the tree's selfless giving is what ultimately makes it happy, and therefore is an uplifting story of how giving is good for you. Shel Silverstein, born in Chicago in 1930, attended art school but only stayed for one year. In the late 50's he became one of the leading cartoonists for Playboy, and he traveled the world writing a feature called "Shel Silverstein Visits...". Silverstein also had a passion for music and he wrote hits for Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash, most notably one of his well known songs "A Boy Named Sue". His publisher encouraged him to write children's poetry, and since he had never studied poetry formally Sheldon said he was able to develop his own offbeat style. His unique poetic voice is on display in another one of his famous children's books, "Where the Sidewalk Ends". I can remember reading this quirky collection growing up and knowing from an early age that it was different from most of the other books I read. Part of the appeal of his writing was that it was fun without being cloying and childish, it made you feel as if you were reading something a little daring, a little risky, maybe even something grown ups would read too. And now, as an adult, I think I was right in that assessment. The Giving Tree makes me think, and I'm glad he left its meaning up to interpretation. My interpretation has changed of the story from when I was little to now, being a parent. And his poems still make me smile and are infinitely enjoyable.
“I will not play at tug o' war. I'd rather play at hug o' war, Where everyone hugs Instead of tugs, Where everyone giggles And rolls on the rug, Where everyone kisses, And everyone grins, And everyone cuddles, And everyone wins.”
What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Was "The Giving Tree" a favorite that you now read to your own kids, and if so, has your interpretation of it changed now that you are a parent? Are there any other titles from growing up that you read to your children in an effort to impart a certain meaning or lesson or is it purely from nostalgia? I hope you all have a relaxing Sunday, and if you are lucky enough to have the day off tomorrow I hope you enjoy it and this beautiful weather!