Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Story Behind the Book

I'm going to be honest and admit that I'm not a Shel Silverstein fan. If anyone out there reading this is a fan, I certainly don't mean to offend. The above book, The Giving Tree, is the only book by Silverstein in our possession. And my second admission: I used to frequently hide it under our pile of books, hoping my daughter wouldn't see it and bring it to me to read. Eventually, I put it completely out of her reach. I was thinking of saving it for a day when my children are older and we can talk about the book and its varied messages. However, she asked me where it was on several occasions. So, reluctantly, I brought the book out again and put it in our book box. It's now back in the regular rotation. *sigh*

So I suppose you might be wondering why I even have the book in the first place. Well, the truth is that this book and I have a little history together. And maybe I'm holding onto the book as a way of holding on to the memory.

Not too long ago, Roo handed "The Giving Tree" to me and asked me to read it -- again. Dutifully, I did so. When I had finished, she asked me where the book came from. Did we buy it? Did we get it as a gift? And I told her this story:

When I was in third grade, I entered a creative writing contest. I wrote an entry for the short story division and another one for the poetry division. I loved to write and my parents encouraged me to submit my work and see what happened. I remember not wanting to do it. My writing was, to me, private. Even at that age, I felt a bit exposed and vulnerable sharing my thoughts and ideas with "the world." Kind of the way I feel about blogging!

But I recall my Mom telling me that sharing my writing is like sharing a gift, and I should be proud that God makes it possible for me to put my ideas into words on paper. Such a "mom" thing to say, isn't it?

Quite unbelievably, I won for my short story and my poem. There was a big ceremony downtown in a large conference hall. You know the ones, with the stadium seating and a tiny little stage/platform down at the bottom? I should probably clarify here that I wasn't the only person being honored that day. That would be something, wouldn't it? All that fanfare for little old me?! :) No, I only represented the children's division. I remember seeing big kids (junior high and high school) there for their respective awards too.

Anyway, the day is as clear in my mind as if it happened just yesterday. I was wearing a turquoise blue dress with a white lace collar and a fake pink rosebud at the neckline. I had on white tights and white patent leather shoes. My mom had set my hair in rags (does anyone remember the rag curls from way back when?) the night before.

I was sitting there in the stadium, on the aisle. I was vacillating between nervous excitement and nausea. I hated being the center of attention (unless at home, however. I worked hard at being the center of attention at home, as my parents and my sister will attest). Being noticed in public was something I always avoided. As I sat there listening to the speaker, my mind drifted off....Why did I enter this contest? Why did I have to win? No one said anything about this ceremony when I entered the contest. If I had known I'd have to accept my award in front of all these people, I wouldn't have come. What if I trip and tumble down all these stairs to the bottom? What if I have to say something? What/why/how... etc. etc. Ah yes, leave it to me, even in the third grade, to suck the joy out of a situation by worrying excessively. Some things never change.

The speaker finished her speech by reading aloud a children's book clad in a green cover. Any guesses? Yes, it was "The Giving Tree." When she had finished reading the book, she called my name and invited me to come down to the stage. She shook my hand, congratulated me, and handed me a blue ribbon, a certificate, and "The Giving Tree." I managed to squeak out a "thank you" before hightailing it to my seat. And I didn't even trip.

So, that very same book, handed to me many years ago, still resides in this house. Why it resonates with my young daughter, I don't know. Maybe she likes it because she likes trees. Maybe it's the simple line drawings. Or maybe it's because she knows there's a story behind the book. Lately, she's very interested in hearing tales about my own childhood. Sometimes the best stories don't come from books, but from bits and pieces of our past, shared with the little people of our future. It helps my daughter get to know me better as a person, not just as her Mommy. She gets a kick out of the idea that Mommy used to be a little girl too. It's opened up a whole new dialogue between us that is so exciting and fun. And she's in for a treat -- I have no shortage of stories waiting for an eager audience (my dear husband will be so relieved, as my chattering will now be divided among several sets of ears!).


  1. What a sweet story, thanks for sharing it. I will admit that I am a Shel Silverstein fan, mainly because I have many great memories from my elementary school days that surround his books. The Giving Tree is favorite of mine, and I was surprised a couple years ago when the Hubby told me he'd never read it. I showed him my old copy from one of my two favorite Aunts and he liked it so much he based a college paper off it.
    Roo is very lucky to have a Mama like you who takes time not only to read to her, but one who supplies an abdunce of books for her curious mind!

  2. J-
    Well, hi there Shel Silverstein fan! One of the few things I didn't know about you, I guess. ;)
    Have you ever read the bazillion comments on regarding this book? It's crazy the wide range of opinions that exist (Examples: the tree represents an ever-giving God and we are like the boy. The tree is the unconditional love we as parents give our children, who then go off and leave us, hopefully to come back some day, etc. etc.) Most explanations are too above a 4 year old's head, but I try to break it down a bit for her when she asks why the boy doesn't share anything with the tree. I'd be curious what your husband's take on it was for his college paper.

    Thanks for your sweet comments. After talking with you about journaling, this story from my youth jumped out at me. Made me remember when I just wrote for fun and how I need to get back into that again!