Richard John Neuhaus
At the end, the tree is a stump, but she is not stumped. As a member of the genus tree, the end is melancholy, she is not flourishing. But as this tree defined by her love for this boy, all is well.
And the boy, who on the face of it seems awfully selfish, loved the tree. Very much, we are told. There was a forest, so there must have been many other trees, but he always came back to, played with, swung on, climbed up, and slept under this tree. Even when he is an old man he is still called “the boy,” which may indicate that he never grew up. Or maybe that he never outgrew his love for the tree, to whom he was always “Boy.”
After we are told that the boy loved the tree very much and that the tree was happy, we come to this, “But time went by.” Before that, all is idyllic and love is wondrously reciprocated; up to now the narrative is a succession of “and,” “and,” “and.” Now comes the abut” of time's testing. “But time went by.”
The boy has another love, while the tree has but one. Perhaps “Y.L.,” his other love, was an abiding love, even his wife (he takes the initials with him on the boat); perhaps not. It may be the tree was jealous of Y.L.—two leaves fall like tears when the boy lies with her in the shade.
Each time the tree had made a proposal to the boy, she told him that he would then be happy. But not at the end. It's just, “Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.” No promise that he would be happy. But maybe he was, or at least happier than before, now that he is no longer filled with wants. “I don't need very much now,” he says.
The story is not about a tree and a boy. It is about this boy's tree and this tree's boy, and the ways of their loving, the ways of their belonging to one another, as time went by.
Jill Tullo, a Mother
The story begins with a tree and boy who are best friends. The tree loves the boy, and the boy loves the tree. The tree gives the boy everything he needs from a vine to swing on to apples to shade to sit under. As the boy grows older, he visits the tree less and less, and when he does visit, he wants more and more. Because the tree loves him so much, it gives him everything he asks for until nothing is left but a stump. The boy leaves and returns many years later as an old man. The tree/stump tells him it has nothing left to give, and the boy/man says all he needs is a place to sit. The tree is happy again and gives him a place to rest.
I chose this book to review because it's been one of my favorites for many years, and I absolutely love Shel Silverstein. Until I heard from some of you and did a little research, I had no idea that there were so many strong opinions about this book. Some love it, some hate it. Some say the boy is greedy and selfish and that children readers learn a horrible lesson. Others say it's the story of unconditional love...the kind of love a parent has for a child. Then there are those who compare the tree to Christ and his self-sacrifice.
My opinion? It's a great book...yes, it may not be the happiest book in the world and children could feel sad and sorry for the tree when they read it. However, I'm of the thought that we can't shelter our kids from the real world and always read them tales of happy bunnies and frogs and princesses who live happily everafter. Of course no parent wants to see thier children hurt or sad. I dread the day when my daughter comes home sad because someone else made fun of her. I dread the day when she gets rejected by a boy or doesn't get picked for the lead role in a play or something else she has her heart set on. But you know what? I also know that it will happen. She will be disappointed. She won't always be happy, and there will be times when she will be sad. I already got a taste of this the other morning when I dropped her off at daycare, kissed her goodbye, and heard her screaming for me down the hall as I left the building.