“I am sorry, Boy,” said the tree, “but I have nothing left to give you. My apples are gone.”
“My teeth are too weak for apples,” said the boy.
“My branches are gone,” said the tree. “You cannot swing on them.”
“I am too old to swing on branches,” said the boy.
“My trunk is gone,” said the tree. “You cannot climb.”
“I am too tired to climb,” said the boy.
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree. “I wish that I could give you something—— but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump.”
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy. “Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.”
“Well,” said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, “Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.” And the boy did. And the tree was happy.
It’s hard to imagine children’s literature without Shel Silverstein and The Giving Tree. But the poet’s whimsical story of the relationship between a growing boy and a tender tree almost never made it into the world. Today, on Shel Silverstein’s 82nd birthday, we should give a little thanks for the author’s talent and tenacity.
Shel wasn’t shy about the difficulty of getting his second children’s book published. For four years, he submitted The Giving Tree to every editor he could find, getting the same positive feedback and, ultimately, the same “no thanks.” “Everybody loved it, they were touched by it, they would read it and cry, and say it was beautiful,” the author told the Chicago Tribune in 1964. “But … one publisher said it was too short. Others felt that the book fell between adult and children’s literature and wouldn’t be popular.”
So how did The Giving Tree finally make it into bookstores, libraries and schools worldwide? When an editor finally recognized the world Shel was trying to create. Harper Children’s editor Ursula Nordstrom got the book’s beauty and gave it a well-deserved shot (including letting Shel keep the somber ending). Forty years later, The Giving Tree has sold millions of copies around the globe and continues to inspire new generations of readers young and old.
Take it from Shel: When the world doesn’t greet your great writing with open arms, that’s all the more reason to stick by it. Just as The Giving Tree supported the boy through thick and thin, artists should embrace their work even when the world doesn’t. With a little tenacity, your work will find its home.