A few nights ago, Kiddo#3 and I read two books before bedtime. He chooses them at random off his shelf, and for the first one, he picked The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
I loathe that book. I detest it. It’s too bad a tree gave its life to make paper to print that book. I keep it around, however, because whenever I discard a “classic” someone immediately gives me another copy, and I don’t want to cause another copy to be printed. This one had come unhidden, sadly, so I read Kiddo#3 the book.
At the end, he said, “The tree was mad.”
She wasn’t really mad. She just fed into the entitlement-mind of The Boy (ugh — the man’s 96 by the end; you’d think he’d grow up and quit taking or the tree would quit enabling him) and she’s given everything she has to someone who doesn’t appreciate her. Her only purpose in life, it seems, is to be used and ignored.
I’ve done web searches and am delighted to know I’m not the only one who detests that story. One site called it “The Taking Boy,” and that’s more to the point. The boy acts like a king, treats her like rubbish, and never values her love, only what she can do for him.
Moreover, there’s no sign he cares about anyone else. He comes at one point and says he wants “a wife” and children. Not that he’s met a woman he loves, but that he figures now is the time to go get one. When he’s sick of it all, he wants a boat to get away. At the end, when he’s a broken old man, he’s not sorry that his selfishness has left him alone in the world. Only that his teeth are no good for apples and he can’t run and jump and climb. Eh. The solipsism hasn’t changed a bit since he was five, when it was far more natural and attractive.
Kiddo#3 liked the part about the apples, so it wasn’t a total loss.
And then, in an act of serendipity or a good push from his guardian angel, he selected another book from the shelf: The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell.
If you’d asked me to pick the opposite of The Giving Tree, I couldn’t have done it, but this would be the book. Click the above link to go over to Amazon and look inside it. Because the thrust of the book is that people don’t need things. Mooch wants to give Earl (yes, the characters from Mutts) a special birthday gift, but Earl has everything, so Mooch decides to give him Nothing. And in the end, they spend time with one another, doing nothing, together. Friends just valuing one another without any concern for stuff, usefulness, or benefitting. They’re just together and they bask in one another’s friendship.
Too bad they didn’t cut down The Tree to make paper for another copy of The Gift of Nothing because The Boy and The Tree both could have learned from it.
The sheer dichotomy of the two books left me with my jaw in my lap.
How do I want Kiddo#3 to value others? By what they can do for him? Or by who they are?
What do I want him to love? Things? Or people?
Objectify his loved ones, or appreciate them as souls?
Remain forever The Boy, or grow into a man?
Well, which of these books would you want to read to your son?