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Top 100 Picture Books #85: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

#85 The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (1964)
23 points

Somebody’s moving up in the world.  At last count Silverstein’s most divisive book was low at #93.  Now it has climbed the ranks to a respectable #85. And there we have it.  One of the most divisive books in children’s literature.  To my mind, you are either a Giving Tree fan or you loathe and abhor it.  My husband is a fan.  In fact, if you get him at a party he will explain at length how subversive the title is, and how Silverstein is playing with the reader and isn’t serious about the tree’s “giving”.  Others prefer to take the book at face value, finding it to be a tale of self-sacrifice and parenthood.  The story, just in case you are unfamiliar with it, is about a tree and the boy it loves.  The boy takes apples, wood, and eventually everything from the tree itself, and it is happy with the process.

It is also notable for this infamous author photo of Mr. Silverstein on the back.  Those of you who read the third Diary of a Wimpy Kid book will remember the passage where Greg’s dad kept him from getting out of bed at night by threatening him with the back of The Giving Tree, telling him Shel Silverstein would get him if he left his room.  You can see it here in this image of Tracy Morgan.

And you’re in luck folks.  There’s now a video out there of the book as read by the author himself:

To say nothing of the perhaps-not-workplace-friendly Sassy Gay Friend edition.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. You can put me in the loathe camp.

    I’m looking forward to seeing where “Love You Forever” ranks in this list…

    • Elizabeth Bird says

      Should I spoil it? Aw, why not. Have no fears, Harold. Once again Love You Forever didn’t make the cut. Not to say it didn’t get any votes, mind you, but not enough. I will stay mum on the subject of Rainbow Fish, though . . .

  2. I’ve always loved “The Giving Tree.” Intentional or not, it is a touching commentary on maternal nature, and is a more realistic reflection of our attitudes toward love and responsibility than many prefer to believe. At a recent NESCBWI conference, I had a chance to debate its merits with a fellow attendee who dislikes it – and while I don’t think either of us changed the others’ minds, I certainly could understand her point of view, and I hope she was able to glimpse mine.

  3. Once upon a time, I loved The Giving Tree. I gave it to my boyfriend, and wrote the inscription, “May you never grow up.” Dear Reader, he married me. Years later, he had a second adolescence and tried to take all my branches and my apples and sail far away, and I was not happy.

    When I moved into my latest home, now divorced, I broke in the new fireplace with a ceremonial burning of The Giving Tree.

    I am happy.

  4. Sondy,

    Loved your post! Count me as a Giver hater (but love LOVE many of his poems).


  5. Genevieve says

    Sondy, a perfect way to christen your fireplace. I’m glad you have your branches and apples, and mostly that you are happy.

  6. Ed and Genevieve, 🙂

    The sad part is that I would have willingly given so much. Had to learn that there comes a time when you say, “No. I won’t stand for that. No, there are laws protecting me, and I will invoke them.” It did dawn on me that The Giving Tree was an awfully good metaphor for what could have happened…. A very sad story, really.

  7. Meredith says

    I think the Sassy Gay Friend really sums up my feelings about this book. It’s distressing.

  8. Zia Blood-Irken says

    I really liked the story but I didnt like the pic on the back of the book


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