I first learnt about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein a month or so ago when I read this article on Medium. A few days later I saw two copies of the book in the library. I wondered if I should grab one for D, then decided against it, remembering how the tale wrenches tears from even the hardest hearts. When we came back home, I strongly regretted my decision that precluded D from making a choice. The next time we came to the library, I looked for the book. It was not there. So of course, I now had to have it, and I placed a hold request for it. We read the story for the first time, and for the only time, this past weekend.

The Giving Tree is the tale of a tree that gives her all to make happy a little boy she loves. The story begins innocently enough, with the tree and the boy loving each other’s company. As time goes by, the boy drifts apart, and comes back to the tree, hoping to fulfil other, newer desires each time. And the tree keeps giving. First, the boy, now grown up, wants money, so the tree offers him all her apples to sell in the market. The boy, now a man, then wants to build a house, and the tree offers him all her branches. Finally, the boy, now middle-aged, wants to build a boat, and the tree offers him her trunk and she is reduced to a stump to which the boy, now an old man, returns to rest on. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this story, as to whether it is a tale of selfless or self-destructive love on the part of the tree, or of selfishness on the part of the boy and his perennial unhappiness as he pursues adult trappings and drifts apart from his childhood love, the tree.

The first and only time I read the tale to D, I heard him stifle a sob when the boy takes away the tree’s branches. “The leaves went away,” he cried. When the boy hacks down the tree’s trunk, D let out a long howl. He held out hope till the end of the story, poor thing, and decided the book will make its way back to the library.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss has a similar but vastly different premise. It is the tale of how capitalist greed destroys nature; only, in this tale, the capitalist regrets his actions. It is about the narrator (in second person) who arrives on the Street of the Lifted Lorax, and encounters the Once-ler who tells him the story of the Lorax. The Once-ler recalls how he arrived at this place and was so taken with the Truffula Trees that he cut them down and used them to knit soft fabrics he calls Thneeds. The Lorax tries to reason with him at every step, but the Once-ler keeps expanding his business until there are no more Truffula Trees left to be hacked down, and the Brown Bar-ba-loots and Humming-Fish and Swomee-Swans all emigrate … and so does the Lorax eventually.

The instant the first tree was hacked down, D closed the book and decided that we needed to return it to the library. This morning, I read the entire tale, and when I learnt that it ends with the Once-ler regretting his decisions and handing the narrator the last Truffula seed so that he can regrow the trees and the forest and hopefully coax all the creatures and the Lorax to return, I asked D if he’d like to read it until the end. D agreed, stuck to the end of the tale, and decided he didn’t like it. So back this one goes to the library.

D is the child who cried the first time I sang to him Annie’s Song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Colours of the Wind, although he didn’t ask me to stop singing … his head was buried in my shoulder, so I didn’t even realise he was weeping until he sniffed loudly at the end. This is perhaps the first time he has shed tears on reading a book.

Earlier this evening, he saw the two books lying about on his shelf, and firmly restated that these are going back to the library. At least, the sight of them does not break his heart again, so he’s definitely made of sturdier stuff than I am!

two books that broke a 2.5-year-old's heart