Pictured to the left is The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. It is arguably one of the most beloved children’s books of all-time. Surprisingly, I don’t remember ever reading this book when I was in grade school, even though I was a pretty big bookworm at the time. But when I was in the 5th grade, I did become a big fan of the author’s books of poetry – Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic. I couldn’t get enough of his funny drawings and his even funnier rhymes. The fact that they bordered on the edge a bit is also probably what appealed to my juvenile mind at the time. For example, here is a short poem from A Light in the Attic -
Rockabye baby, in the treetop
Don’t you know a treetop
Is no safe place to rock?
And who put you up there,
And your cradle too?
Baby, I think someone down here’s
Got it in for you.
Pretty clever eh? It wouldn’t suprise me if many of today’s top comedic writers (think any Pixar animated film) were big Shel Silverstein fans growing up as well! So, with that background info, you can imagine how happy I was when someone gave The Giving Tree as a gift to my (now 2 year old) son Benjamin. I am not sure exactly who gave it to him (thank you whoever you are!) or when it was given to him, but he just recently startd wanting us to read it to him. Tonight was one of those nights, and after reading the book again, it inspired me to postpone my sleep to write this post…
WARNING: PLOT SPOILER AHEAD! STOP READING THIS NOW IF YOU STILL NEED TO READ THE BOOK!
First thing I want to address is that I don’t think I get the message of the book. The tree ends up as a stump for the boy in his old age to sit on? Wow, that’s quite a downer. I guess the point is the tree gave everything it could to make the boy happy? Is there some deeper symbolism that I am missing here? Is the book addressing the problems of self-entitlement? Any of the more literary types out there who might read this post care to enlighten me? ( Hannah, this means you.)
Second thing, and not as serious, but maybe even more important for the sake of future sales of The Giving Tree, is this big question: What is the deal with the photo of the author on the back cover?!
Scary Shel Silverstein!
I want to know what sales/marketing genius thought that this was the best photo to use to help convince parent’s to buy the book? Can you imagine their conversation -
“How about this photo of Mr. Silverstein smiling and looking happy?”
” Nah, too common. How about this shot where Mr. Silverstein furrows his brow and grimaces like he is suffering from severe indigestion?”
“Oooh, I like it! That will definitely not frighten any young children nor their parents!”
“Even better, let’s make the photo the size of the entire back cover, so there will be no way to avoid his beady-eyed gaze!”
This post is in no way meant to belittle the rugged good looks of Mr. Silverstein. We have all suffered from bad photo days, and most of them remain hidden on our drivers licenses or Sam’s Club membership cards, and not splashed onto the covers of a best-selling children’s book, so it is not like I am not sympathetic. It’s just that I can’t believe they used that photo. And actually, by the power of Google, I discovered the photo they used on the first edition of the book -
Much better and definitely less scary
While Mr. Silverstein definitely bears a striking resemblance to Che Guevara in this photo, the fact that he has a head of hair, is not grimacing in pain and that the photo is not just a head shot blown up to take up the entire back cover, makes a huge difference in presentation. This is a cover I would not be wary to pull out to read to a group of impressionable young minds.
What? You think I am just being silly? Actually, I am quite serious about the matter, and I even did some investigative reporting, to see if it was just me who suffered from Shel Silverstein shock, and well…I think you just better take a look at this teacher’s classroom experience.
My solution to this entire problem? Either go back to using the original “Che” cover shot, or use the one that I found below, where Mr. Silverstein is humanized somewhat by the fact that we can imagine he is playing some nice lovely melody on his guitar, while humming along in a equally soothing key…
Unfortunately, the fact that the viewer’s eye cannot help but be drawn to Mr. Silverstein’s giant foot and gi-normous toes, confirms that some of us are just not meant to have our photos taken.