By Ruth Chung
One of the best things about children’s books is the way that children’s writers often simplify deeper messages into a story that a young child can understand. Often as children, we don’t realize the deeper messages behind these seemingly simple stories. Looking back on them every once in a while can show us a bit more of what we might have missed.
When I think about childhood and what kinds of books I (and many of my peers) loved, one of the first that comes to mind is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The Giving Tree is a book about a friendship between a tree and a young boy and the dedication and loyalty this tree shows towards this boy despite how he tends to underappreciate her. It teaches children what it looks like to love unconditionally, and also shows the sadness of forgetting to appreciate the ones who show you this kind of love.
The book begins with the boy as a young child playing with the tree and simply enjoying her presence. The boy is described to love the tree, very much. But as the boy gets older, he begins to want other things. First, the boy wants money, and so the tree gives him her apples so he can sell them. She is happy to give away what she had. The boy stays away for a long time and then comes back, wanting a house to live in. The tree gives him her branches as wood to build a house. She is happy to give away what she has. And again, the boy stays away for a long time and returns when he wants a boat to get away. She gives him the remainder of her trunk. She is happy to give it to him. He comes back way later, and she says sorry that she does not have anything more to give him. The boy says that it is okay, because he just wants a place to rest in quiet. She straightens up and says that he may sit on her trunk and rest. The boy is now an old man, and he comes and sits on her trunk. The tree is now happy, because she is still able to show him love through giving.
The Giving Tree shows children what it means to give, through the tree’s example, and shows what unconditional love means. Even though the boy gave nothing back to the tree, the tree loved the boy and thus she gave all that she had. She was content in giving all that she had.
This book, however, can also leave children feeling sad. It can also show children the dangers of forgetting to show appreciation for loved ones who give you so much. The boy forgot to show appreciation for the tree, even though the tree was constantly giving. In result, as readers we feel sorrow for the tree, who was not appreciated (though happy).
Rereading this children’s book as a young adult gives deeper understanding to the real story that might have been missed as a child. Children’s books are rich with knowledge and valuable lessons that can go over many young people’s heads. Take the time to sit back and read a children’s book! The lessons might surprise you, and you might find yourself realizing something new.