Today in class, small math groups ended early. I looked at the clock and realized that I had about ten minutes in which I had nothing planned. I usually have lined up across the lip of the white board, a row of books the students or myself have selected for class read alouds. On this day the selection was slim so I walked back to our classroom library, swiftly flipped through some books, and grabbed a Shel Silverstein book.
I did not give it much thought until I was seated in my “Teacher Chair” (which is really just a student chair that resides next to the rug we meet on several times a day). It was The Giving Tree. Now I don’t know about you, but this book gets me choked up every time I read it.
It started out fine.
The students like it and made connections to times they had climbed trees. The boy in the story grows up, spending less time with his friend the tree. The tree, missing the boy who used to play in her branches and rest under her shade, gives him her apples to sell to make him happy. And it made her happy too. The students again made connections to their lives and the conversations we have about “filling buckets” by giving compliments and making our friends feel good.
Then it got a bit hairy.
The tree offered the boy her branches. A hush fell over the students and small gasps escaped their lips when the boy actually cut off the tree’s branches.
The boy stayed away for a long time. When he came back he was old and wanted to get away. The tree offered him her trunk to make a boat.
He took her trunk, leaving only a crooked stump.
The students protested. A few sat quietly, eyes moist. My voice wavered and I paused in places during my reading, not for effect, but to keep myself in check.
At the end, the boy, now an old man, returned. The tree lists off all the things she can no longer offer him. The boy, for each, replies that he no longer needs any of those things. He is tired and wants only to rest. And so the tree straightens herself up and offers him her stump as a quiet place to rest.
How can you explain the depth, the willingness to give anything to those you dearly love? And yet this book, these words, paired with simple illustrations could, did. Most of my students, maybe not fully understanding it, felt it.
The tree was happy. And the boy was happy. The story ended.
At the end of the ten minutes, which had turned into twenty, I had a lump in my throat and a couple of my kids were wiping away tears.