The Giving Tree is one of Shel Silverstein’s most accomplished children’s stories, discussing the ambivalent topic of the relationship we share with our immediate environment.
I stumbled across this beautiful story about a little boy and his tree not in a bookshop but in a children’s museum in Honduras where they performed El árbol generoso in a small stage production.
The story starts of with the sentence, «Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.» As time goes by, the little boy gradually takes more things from the tree. Starting with the apples and the tree’s fallen leaves, he finally uses her branches to build a house and her trunk for a boat. For all of his life the tree manages to give him just what he needs while gradually being exploited by the boy’s own selfish bahaviour.
The true beauty of this story lies in the realisation that, no matter how cruel our behaviour, nature always provides us generously with what we need most. The play El árbol generoso, performed by the staff of CHIMINIKE in the Hoduran capital, Tegucigalpa, emphasises on the unequality of this relationship and thus provides an alternative ending to the book. «Pobrecito el árbol, ¿verdad?» asks the narrator after the seemingly last scene. What a poor tree, right? And then, unexpectedly, the audience is shown a wholly new scenario in which the tree is protected from the axe by a tall boy in a cowboy hat. The light flashes, and we see the cut down trunk again, next to it a girl, pouring waters on its roots until it rises again. Another scene: people holding hands and dancing around the tree. And on and on it goes.
The message is clear: As much as this tree loved this boy, the boy is loving it back with all his heart. As much as we gain from our environment, we have to care for it best we can. This is a big message in the overly polluted city of Tegucigalpa where walking is limited to Shopping Malls and front yards and the car is the only – relatively – safe mode of travel; where rubbish is burned on the side of the streets and plastic litters the roads; where companies have a major interest in economical achievement and none in sustainability. But in the midst of this chaos, a small green book that someone once took the effort to translate into Spanish, inspired a handful of people to speak up. And as the actors step out from behind the curtain, they are all smiles. They take photographs with their very young audience and they remind them, «Take care of the trees. We rely on them.»
This is the true magic of a book. When the dead ink comes to life, when it makes children laugh and adults think.
The photographs were taken by Maynor Aguilar. All rights reserved.
Published by Noemi Harnickell