I read The Giving Tree to Charlie, my five year old son, last night for the first time.
It was incredible.
He sat quietly beside me on the bed as the boy and the tree played together in the summer sun.
He remained quiet as the boy returned years later, first taking the tree's apples to sell for money and then her branches to build a home.
Then the boy - now an older man - returned with the desire to sail far away. The tree offered the boy her trunk to build a boat, and when the boy chopped the tree down to a stump, Charlie gasped.
Then he began to cry.
The boy - now an old man - returns to the tree one final time looking for a place to rest. The tree offers him the only thing she has left - her stump - as a fine place to sit.
He does, and the tree, at least according to Shel Silverstein, is happy.
I closed the book. Charlie's eyes were filled with tears. He began speaking.
"I hate that book," he said. "Why did you read me that book? Why would someone write such a sad book? Why did you choose that book, Dad? Don't ever, ever, ever, ever read me that stupid book again."
I told Charlie that it's a very famous and popular book. "Lots of people read it."
"Why?" he asked. His sadness had shifted into anger. He was mad. "Who likes a book like that? I hate that book. I hate that boy. Why did he do that? Don't ever read that book to me again."
Elysha came into the room, and Charlie summarized the book for her.
"I liked the book when the boy and the tree were playing together, but then he chopped the tree down. Why did he do that, Mom? I hate that book. I never want to read it again."
Then he insisted that I stay for the before-bed cuddle. It was the first time he's ever asked me to stay and cuddle with him before bed.
I don't disagree with Charlie. I despise The Giving Tree. I'll never understand why anyone likes this book. I chose to read it to Charlie for the reasons I explained:
It's a famous and popular book. You should read it at least once in your life.
But once was more than enough for Charlie, and I agree.
I despise the book so much that I wrote a a satirical twist on The Giving Tree last year. We hope to find a publisher for the book in the coming months.
I told this to Charlie.
"I hope the boy and the tree stay friends in your book like in the beginning of this book," he said. "I liked the beginning of the book. I hope your book is good like that, Dad."
Not quite, but good luck explaining satire to a five year-old boy. He'll read my version someday, and though it's not the idyllic story that he is hoping for, I think it's a hell of a lot better than Shel Silverstein's classic.