Banned Book Club: The Giving Tree

Title: The Giving Tree

Published: 1964

Author: Shel Silverstein

Challenge status: Included on a recent article about classic children’s books that have been banned in America. Book #26 on Summer of Banned Books ’13.

Why: Generally the Internetz thinks this book has been challenged due to being sexist (the boy is too selfish/the tree is too accommodating), or for undermining parental/religious authority. I wasn’t able to find many specific references, though, only a banning occurrence in Omaha, NY in 2007. The other event was the book was removed from a locked reference collection in Boulder, Colo. Public Library (1988).

First line: “Once there was a tree…”


So there’s a tree that loves a boy so much that she (the tree, that is – is a she), over the course of the boy’s lifetime, gives everything she has for his happiness: apples, branches, trunk – until that is left of her is a stump. One interpretation: the tree is selfless in her (?) love for the boy. Another interpretation: the tree and the boy have a sadomasochistic relationship. Wikipedia had not just one but THREE references for this second opinion, including one text entitled “Gyn/Ecology: the Metaethics of Radical Feminism“, which I think is a fantastic title. Gyn/Ecology, see what they did there?

Tracy Morgan love the Giving Tree

Apparently Shel Silverstein is way more controversial than I ever realized. But actually here’s my favorite bit, courtesy of Elizabeth Bird’s article in the School Library Journal: “[The Giving Tree] 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.


I think worrying too much about the motives of the apple tree and the selfishness of the boy is absurd. But I will say, there’s probably someone in your life who would have given you their branches and would love it if you would just sit with them for a while. Related note: call your mom (or dad, or whoever that person is).

What do you think?

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