A bit of background here. I belong to an online community called www.goodreads.com which is a place where readers discuss books. We have some lively conversations, especially in the group called "Books I Loathed."

One of the books that came up was a children's book by Shel Silverstein called The Giving Tree. Depending on your point of view, it's a poignant parable of unconditional love, or the toxic relationship between a narcissistic male and a pathetic self-destructive female.

Here's the story. Once there was a tree who loved a little boy. He would come and play in her branches and sleep under her shade. Then he began taking. He wants to buy a car and she gives him her apples to sell. He wants a house and she gives him her trunk and branches for wood. At the end of the book, he's an old man, she's a stump. All he wants to do is sit and rest and she offers herself to sit on. And she's happy.

The first time I heard it, I thought "My God, the tree dies! She's reduced to nothing but a stump and she's happy that the boy is sitting on her!" I've always seen it as the relationship between a selfish man and a compulsively giving woman, but one member of the group saw it as a mother and child relationship.

Now Shel Silverstein has written some wonderful stuff for children, like his poetry books Where The Sidewalk Ends and A Light In The Attic. I love the poem "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout" about the disatrous results of not taking the garbage out. A far more practical moral than giving so much that you're not even you any more.

I never read this book to my daughter. I much preferred Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are where Max escapes his time-out by going to the land of the Wild Things where he's made King of The Wild Things and stays until he gets hungry and decides to go back where someone loved him best of all.

And his supper was still hot.


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