Originally posted in October 2010, this post is our offering for #TBT. We've spent years helping parents transform storytime into a thoughtful conversation. For more conversation tips and book ideas, please visit our Read Together page!
I’m embarrassed to admit that, until recently, I did not like The Giving Tree. This week I rediscovered it as a surprisingly good discussion book for a five-year-old!
Shel Silverstein just might be my favorite poet of all time, (Where the Sidewalk Ends, anyone?), but somehow his popular children’s book about a selfless tree and a demanding little boy has always left me unsettled.
This might sound odd coming from an organization dedicated to helping families volunteer together, but the tree’s oversharing has always made me uncomfortable
The tree is selfless in the extreme, to her own detriment. I’m obviously a proponent of giving, but I also hope to raise strong self-advocates.
Many readers, including my own partner, see the tree’s ultimate selflessness as an expression of parenthood, but I certainly hope to return my own parents love and care more than Silverstein’s boy.
Others respond to the book’s subtle lesson in ecology. Our careless use of the Earth’s resources mirror the boy’s constant harvest of the tree. In the end he is worn out and alone with a stump, just as we will sit on a barren plain one day and wonder why we didn’t make real changes sooner.
When I dusted it off last week, I used it as a sort of Baby’s First Book Club discussion.
The Giving Tree was our starting point for a conversation about sharing rather than a demonstration of what giving should look like. This time, the message didn’t feel so off to me.
My daughters both loved the story. The simple sketches and rhythmic words soothed them before bed in a way that their latest favorite Skippyjon Jones, never quiet does.
When I asked why she liked it, my five-year-old was enthusiastic, “Because that tree shared everything. She was a really good sharer.”
I struggled for a minute, after my daughter lauded the good sharing of the tree.
Building off of her response, I asked her a few simple questions:
- What did the tree share with the boy?
- What made the tree happy?
- What did the boy share with the tree?
- What could the boy have done for the tree?
- Who shared with you today?
- What could you share with others?
These discussion questions started a lengthy conversation. My daughter recognized that the tree was not always happy, and that the boy did not share anything. She thought the boy could have watered the tree or visited more often.And she fully enjoyed talking about how she can share with her sister, her neighbor, or her friends more often.
It was a pretty pithy conversation for a not-quite-kindergartner.
Still, she gave me a blank look when I suggested the tree could have asked the boy to visit more often. Perhaps that is just future me talking to my future college student.
What are your impressions of The Giving Tree?
How have you helped your child take a strong and positive message away?