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An Animated Version of The Giving Tree Narrated by Shel Silverstein

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

From 1973, this is an animated short film version of the classic children’s book The Giving Tree, narrated by author Shel Silverstein. As Wikipedia notes, there are conflicting ideas about the book’s meaning:

This book has been described as “one of the most divisive books in children’s literature”; the controversy stems from whether the relationship between the main characters (a boy and the titular tree) should be interpreted as positive (i.e., the tree gives the boy selfless love) or negative (i.e., the boy and the tree have an abusive relationship).

Silverstein’s narration does little to resolve the complexity of the story, although as someone who has never read The Giving Tree1, I was left feeling not so great about the relationship depicted in the story. (via open culture)

Update: Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant wrote about the lessons of The Giving Tree for NY Times Parenting.

We don’t know what motivated Shel Silverstein to write “The Giving Tree.” In a rare interview, he said it was about “a relationship between two people; one gives and the other takes.” But we think it’s best read as a cautionary tale about love. Although the tree seems to take joy in giving to the boy, their relationship is entirely one-sided. The tree is perfectly happy to destroy herself under the guise of “love” for the boy. That’s not love; it’s abuse. Even an editor of the book, Phyllis Fogelman, felt that way. “I have had qualms about my part in the publication of ‘The Giving Tree,’ which conveys a message with which I don’t agree,” she said in an interview. “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”

  1. I know! Silverstein was not part of my childhood — perhaps his stuff was too weird for my parents? — so I’ve only gotten to know his work through Where the Sidewalk Ends, which I’ve read to my kids.