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'Tree': Loving it, hating it

October 31, 2009

It's a pity that Madeleine Brand did not heed her own advice and refrain from "throwing yet another (b)log on the towering inferno of mommy blogs out there" [Parenting on the Edge, Oct. 17, and related podcast]. In her commentary about children's books that should be grounded, Brand finds such venerable classics as "The Giving Tree" to be "offensive" because she believes they send a bad message about gender roles. While acknowledging that this book was one she adored and loved as a child, she thinks nothing of slamming this and other classics and depriving the next generation of what have fundamentally become beloved children's literature.

Yes, they are picture books, but each of my children treasured the words and symbolism and to this day remembers fondly the compassion that the books taught. It is only through Brand's perhaps now-jaded eyes that "The Giving Tree" and "Love You Forever" have become gender-bashing stories. These books instead teach the power of unconditional love and forgiveness. There is a good reason why these books have stood the test of time and why new parents are showered with these treasures.

Deborah Aiwasian

Glendora

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I am an avid reader of The Times, and Home is a special treat on Saturdays. However, when I came across Brand's column on parenting, it aroused my ire that she considered "The Giving Tree" an offensive book for children.

This book has such wonderful messages: Nature is forgiving, and that a tree serves until it is a stump is absolutely divine. Let's get real! Life has worse hurdles in store.

Christine Peterson Woodland Hills

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This is fantastic! I run a children's library and literacy lab at L.A. City College, where adult students training to be preschool teachers learn about good children's literature and how to read to and with children. The podcast is wonderful! I will share it with my students and parents. I have been using "The Giving Tree" and "Love You Forever" as examples of my personal dislikes for the last five years.

Carmela Bosco Via the L.A. at Home blog (To see more than 20 additional comments on the blog, go to latimes.com/home and click on "Madeleine Brand" in the Categories box.)

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I like that Brand, as a mother, takes the education through storytelling of her child seriously. I do not, however, like the tendency of readers (Brand included) to reduce the meaning of a book to the narrow confines of their own sociopolitical circumstances.

I tend not to think of Shel Silverstein's books as children's books, and I certainly don't think of them as books on parenting, regardless of the intentions of mothers at baby showers. "The Giving Tree" is the story of one boy and one tree. I'm sure Brand feels that the tree is too selfless, but that's what makes the character interesting. And perhaps more important, the boy-turned-old-man is too selfish. We weep for the tree and despise the man.

If Silverstein wrote a book where the tree rejects the boy/man, stops giving to him . . . well, there isn't much of a story there, and there certainly isn't any pathos.

Jonathan Westerberg

Los Angeles

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I too received a copy of "The Giving Tree" as a young parent. It was a gift from a my in-laws. I too cringed at the role given to the tree. But now a parent of 32-, 30- and 20-year-old children, my perspective on the book has changed.

Today I see that the message was not meant for children; the metaphor describes one single, powerful aspect of parenting: unconditional love. As parents, we give our best to our children and are always there for them. If we expect anything in return, especially on our own terms, we not only will be disappointed but we also pollute the relationship.

Wendy Zacuto Assistant head of school Chinese American International School San Francisco

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"The Rainbow Fish" has long been banned in my house (even though our daughters liked the sparkly pictures), and that tree is such a doormat! For some of those books, I give them a little historical leeway. Perhaps they are reflecting the way things used to be. But Shel Silverstein gets no such leeway from me.

Bath Rabin Via the L.A. at Home blog

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Thank you, Madeleine Brand, for confirming what I have long known: "Love You Forever" is a horrifying children's book. When parents gushed about how it moved them to tears, I thought: Me too, but for different reasons.

Isn't anyone else disturbed by the picture of an old woman driving to her adult son's home and climbing up into his bedroom window in the middle of the night? And where's the daughter-in-law? This mother makes Kathleen Turner in "Serial Mom" look like June Cleaver. If they ever make "Love You Forever" into a movie, you can just bet it will be directed by John Waters or Rob Zombie.

Elizabeth Murray La Habra

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