I was at the library the other day and a friend of mine was reading The Giving Tree. She was planning to check it out (and still may have) when I commented about how much I hated that book. She looked shocked.

I am no stranger to having unpopular parenting opinions. I don’t like my kid to play pirate, I am totally anti-Disney, and I refuse to lie to my kid about Santa Claus. I’m not saying I’m a perfect parent by any means and I am sure I make plenty of choices that other people disagree with (like not insisting that he eat certain foods over others.) But good-natured teasing and judgment aside, I am still sticking to my beliefs. And not reading The Giving Tree to my kid is one of them.

Today, I stumbled on this article in my feed and I was so relieved to hear that I wasn’t alone in my opinion. Although I do love Shel Silverstein (and we regularly read from his poetry books) I do not love The Giving Tree. I think that it sends the message that not only is it ok to take and take and take from our someone who is offering, but also to not reciprocate or even say thank you. On the surface, the story is about greedily destroying nature for one’s own gain, which in and of itself is problematic, but the real issue for me is the personification of the tree and the message it sends about interpersonal dynamics. Four-year-olds will identify the tree with his or her parents or teachers or other adults and will believe that these people are only there to give. And give and give and give, even to the extent to which it destroys the giver. This is not the worldview I want my kid to grow up with. I know, I know. It’s just one book. But it’s not. It’s the compounding of problematic messages via books, movies, television, and advertising that I am trying to mitigate while I still have control of the reins.

I know I will change my tune on a lot of things as the timing seems appropriate. I’m not laying down any hard and fast rules; even with only four years of parenting under my belt, I know how unrealistic that is. I was the mom who wasn’t going to let her kid watch any TV and, well, we all know how that turned out. And I am the mom who swears that her kid is not going to Disney World, but who knows what will happen in another four or five years. (For the record, my biggest beef with Disney is that the messages of sexism, misogyny,  racism, and classism are way too big for preschoolers to grapple with; yet, they are the target audience. Disney, in the name of making [a jillion] buck[s], thrusts troubling messages at little kids who are much too immature to properly process these things. I fully expect that my kid will end up watching and loving some Disney stuff. In fact, he has already seen a few of the more innocuous ones — mostly without my permission or knowledge until after the fact — but my hope is that I am able to stave off his Disneyfication until he is old enough to grasp some of the subtle messages being fed to him and have conversations about them. Maybe that’s overly optimistic of me, but it’s what I am hoping for.)

Aaaaanyway. So, yeah. The Giving Tree. Not a fan. (And since we’re talking about unpopular opinions about kids’ books, I also hate Love You Forever and won’t read that one to him either. It’s creepy.) Do you have any unpopular parenting “rules”? Any books you refuse to read or movies you won’t show?

9 thoughts on “Giving.

  1. I don’t have any kids but I feel exactly the same way about The Giving Tree… It’s just disturbing (although I suppose being a park ranger puts me in a wholly different category here)

  2. The Giving Tree can easily be read as an inter-species tale of domestic abuse. No coincidence that the tree is portrayed as female and the boy is portrayed as male. I suppose we’re just lucky that as an adult the boy doesn’t jerk off in the hollows of her trunk.

  3. I rarely speak up on these sort of things, but I have to say, the title of the book is The Giving Tree, and not The Taking Boy. Meaning, the focus and the point of the whole story is the Tree. It is about the integrity of giving to someone who you love and wanting to see them do well without asking for anything in return. The boy returns to the tree in between his adventures for comfort and guidance and that is the thanks that tree feels. And in the end, he returns for the last time to the one who has been his constant and sits with it, and the very last line of the book is “And the tree was very happy.” It does not say “The tree was bitter and resentful for this ungrateful SOB but bit his tongue.”

    I feel that in American culture, the nuance of unspoken gratitude is lost. Yes, it is important to say thank you and acknowledge people who have given a lot to you. But there are some who are unable to express those things in words. I have a father who has never said he loves me. But I never once felt he didn’t love me because it is so obvious from everything that he had done for me–and that is how my culture is. I believe that the boy does love the tree and is grateful. My 5 year old daughter gets that nuance and loves the book and we’ve had some lovely conversations around it, which is a whole point of reading and seeing film and theatre. I believe that that experience connects to great empathy and good social behavior which is a great deal of importance to me.

    I respect your opinion, of course. But just wanted to share mine.

    • Mimi, thanks for that alternative view. I see where you’re coming from and it makes sense. Maybe it is worth reading and having the subtext conversation. I agree that learning from books/film/theatre is part of their beauty. Something about this story, though, I don’t know. It rubs me the wrong way. I should read it again with a different pair of eyes.

  4. I never liked The Giving Tree either, even as a child. When I got older I decided it was about codependency. I wouldn’t read it to my nieces. We all love the poetry books though! And Lafcadio. But my parents didn’t read Lafcadio to us until we were old enough to have a conversation about it and what it meant. How do you feel about Lafcadio?

  5. Holy moly. I thought I was the only one! When G was born I bought a bunch of “classic” books, including that one. One day we sat down to read it, and as I was sitting there I thought “God, The Boy is a JERK” I understand what Mimi is saying, but “The tree was very, very sad.” We finished and I put it on the shelf and haven’t read it to him since. Glad to know I’m not alone. 🙂

  6. I have always hated that book, for many of the same reasons as you do. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone. I also HATE Love You Forever. That mom IS totally creepy and invasive. If I were that kid I would move my ass out of town. We (my husband and I) call it the “stalker mommy” book.

  7. Mimi, thank you for so eloquently sharing your point of view, which is how I saw the book when I read it to Robin many years ago. I do see her point now though and wonder if the point of view depends on the reader and what they think a parent should do and be. I had never looked at it thru the eyes of possibly selfish boy, only thru the good feelings of giving, but that’s not teaching in a parent/child relationship. Very interesting topic…thank you all for sharing and especially Robin for bring it to light.

    Love You Forever…that’s another story. We got that book as a gift when we became grandparents with a loving inscription from our friend whose grandkids loved the book so naturally we read it to our grandsons at the time (not The Who) and tho I haven’t looked at it in a while and hope I don’t embarrass myself by discussing the wrong book, they requested it often tho I always felt it was creepy as Robin states– very invasive stalker parent and who wants a little kid to think about their parent so old and sick they have to rock them! I have never read it to The Who…just can’t bring myself to…

  8. I tried to watch finding nemo with theo and was horrified and how violent and fast-paced it was. Skipped through most of it. Back to the musicals. Next up: sound of music. Of course there are all kinds of gender and heterosexist problems with these old classics (including annie), but hopefully my son will be less likely to be an ADHD psychopath by age 10.

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