The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein

This, one of the talented Shel Silverstein’s best-known books, is the simple story of a boy and a tree. When he’s small, the boy climbs the tree, swings from its branches and eats its fruit. As he grows older, the boy visits only when he needs something. The tree always gives him what he wants. At the end of the story, when the boy is an old man and the tree is no more than a stump, the boy returns – this time wanting only a ‘quiet place to sit and rest’.

How simple is that? And yet this book has caused its share of controversy. What is Shel Silverstein saying, exactly? Is it about the unconditional love of a parent for a child? Or is it about the unconditional greed of humans?

This month – as we watch (among other things) the government of the United States deny the existence of climate change and try to destroy it Environmental Protection Agency, and the British government try to impose a tax of sustainable energy sources and ignore its people’s opposition to fracking – I’m reading The Giving Tree as an allegory: what the boy does to the tree – taking and taking without even a thank you – is what we have done and are doing to the planet. In the end (just as at the end of the book), there will be nothing left, just us, sitting on a barren rock, wistfully remembering a time when the Earth was green and lush and full of life.

The Giving Tree – another book for our times.


The Giving Tree