Bedtime Story

giving tree

Even setting aside the fact that The Giving Tree is possibly the most objectionable children’s book that doesn’t have any Berenstain Bears in it, what’s the joke here? And why this book?

If anything, I’d think Spook would prefer The Count of Monte Cristo.

The irony, of course, is that if this strip were written today, it would have been published just in time for Silverstein’s birthday.


  1. I don’t have any answers to Bill’s questions, but I am curious as to what is so bad about the Berenstain Bears. Are there really any Berenstain Bears books that are at Giving Tree levels of objectionality?

  2. Don’t forget “I love you forever” as a famously objectionable book.

    Even I can forgive the giving tree if you squint your eyes and accept the intended lesson (as opposed to the lesson that it ends up giving).

    But I love you forever creeps me out no matter what.

  3. The formula for Berenstain Bears is that the kids and/or Papa develop some negative habit or trait — which might not even gave been on the reader’s radar befire reading the book — and then learn the error of their ways.

    The one where a family of pandas moves next door, and Papa is ready to burn a cross in their front yard until he realizes pandas are a kind of bear so it’s okay, is when I called it quits.

  4. “if this strip were written today, it would have been published just in time for Silverstein’s birthday.”

    I’m not sure what you mean. It’s dated today. Is it a rerun? If not, perhaps the birthday is this strip’s raison d’être?

  5. Mason could should have used “Goodnight Moon as the classic bedtime story, even if it might have drawn comparisons to Breathed’s final “Opus” strip.
    P.S. @ Arthur – Assuming a lead time of about three weeks, a cartoon written now would have just enough time to make it into the newspaper for Silverstein’s 89th birthday on Sept. 25th.

  6. @Arthur, Silverstein’s birthday is Sept 25, so I think what Bill was saying is that if he actually drew the cartoon today, it would have been in the paper on or close to his birthday.

  7. CIDU Bill, it’s just as well that you never got to The Berenstain Bears in Cyberspace, where the bear cubs all get laptop computers. Of course they go to dating sites. One girl bear pretends to be much older and sets up a date with an older man bear, who turns out to be … her current boyfriend also pretending to be much older. Ha ha, she got her own boyfriend, no danger there, nothing creepy about that.

  8. “Ha ha, she got her own boyfriend…”
    Not only that, but it turns out that he also likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

  9. I had never heard of “The Giving Tree” until this strip today and, of course looked it up. Apparently there are those who think it is wonderful and those who think it horrible – without having it read it, from the description I lean towards the latter.

    I had never read a Berenstain book until I was older (and making panel baby quilts for sale including ones with Berenstain pictures on them). I was surprised that the books I saw tended towards being a bit “Christian”.

    Silliness from me – As to pandas being bears – in my teddy bear village all bears (that are under 6 inches tall) are welcome. There is a family of pandas in the village who plan to “open” a restaurant there “Panda, Panda, strictly vegetarian Chinese food”. There is also a family of Koala bears. I found them last year (they are a toy set). Robert asked how they fit into the village. Something about them made them look like tourists – dad had a loud plaid shirt, mom had the baby over her shoulder in a scarf like they were traveling. They come to the village now for the warm weather – Spring and Summer – and then “go home” to Australia for spring and summer there.

  10. Those puppy names reminds me of toys I had over 50 years ago. 3 small plastic cavemen whose names were Mimbo, Bimbo, and Sam.

  11. I should elaborate: when I was reading my son The Berenstain Bears Join the Klan, I stopped and said to him “You understand why this book is horrific, right?”

    He said yes, and I told him I wasn’t going to tell him he can’t read these books on his own (he was on the cusp of being able to), but I was done with them.

  12. I took over bedtime reading duties for my daughter when she was 5. I ditched almost all the kids’ books she had at that time in favor of real books, largely science-fiction. Little Fuzzy, Tunnel in the Sky, Podkayne. It wasn’t all SF, there was some light fantasy, like “A Spell for Chameleon”, and the first couple of “Little House” books. Then along came Harry Potter, which I did NOT read to her (she was old enough to read those herself, and she was motivated enough to do it.) Then (ugh) along came “Twilight”

    So, yes, there ARE children’s books, sans Bears, that are more objectionable.

  13. 1) Koalas are not bears; they are marsupial, so yes, they really ARE tourists. As were we, in OZ in 1995 . . .

    2) When we lived in WI, our fave Chinese restaurant was called The Panda.

  14. As Hubby’s daughter was of bedtime-story-age in the early 1980’s, I think the Berenstain Bear books were much more innocuous then, and have become – or tried to become – more ‘relevant’ and therefore more obnoxious as the series dragged on. Are new ones being published now, still? How many times can the authors go back to the well, so to speak. Or write, in this case.

  15. As for ‘The Giving Tree’ . . . I think Shel Silverstein tried to be positive and upbeat and just didn’t quite make it; his underlying cynicism comes thru, despite himself.

  16. “The Giving Tree is possibly the most objectionable children’s book that doesn’t have any Berenstain Bears in it”

    Most objectionable of recent decades, perhaps (I haven’t read it), but I suspect a lot of 19th and early 20th century children’s books could beat it in that department. One candidate is THE WONDERFUL ELECTRIC ELEPHANT
    in which our protagonist kids, safe inside what amounts to an impenetrable elephant-sized-and-shaped tank, have the habit of shooting Native Americans for sport (the Elephant also uses deadly electric shocks to kill further, when the gunnery practice pales).

  17. I remember one I read in elementary school in which the son of a stockbroker buys penny stocks not quite understanding what he’s doing, but because he likes the nice certificates, and then the Crash (of ’29) happens, and his father goes a little crazy, tearing into his nice collection of certificates and declaring them all worthless now, worthless! But that wasn’t the part I’m bringing this book up for, no, that was the part where he deals with a bully by luring him into a mantrap he had built, a pit filled with manure and something spiky, either in the bottom to fall onto, or up top when trying to climb out; anyway, the bully breaks at least one arm, nearly drowns in the manure, and has a nice collection of open wounds for the manure to infest (and this would be in the days before antibiotics), and this was seen as measured retribution…

    Either I was just of the wrong generation to appreciate this tale of fitting justice, or the previous bits about his unhinged father and the stock crash made it clear that his was not a normal or emulation-worthy upbringing, but I found the book fairly disturbing.

  18. I got a hold of a turn-of-last-century novel for young people called “A Young Inventor’s Pluck”. A young fellow, honest and decent, is beset on all sides people who are just horrible to him because they can be, before finally, at the end, he gets rich through honest hard work.

  19. “1) Koalas are not bears; they are marsupial, so yes, they really ARE tourists.”

    They also all have chlamydia. That part probably wasn’t in the brochure for the petting zoo.

  20. > I have not read, nor had read to me, “I Love You Forever”, I just know of it from Wikipedia. What is creepy about it?

    (From memory) the mother sings/rocks the asleep son…. at increasing ages throughout the book. The scene where she does so by breaking into his house where he’s living as an adult is a bit jarring.

  21. Bill: Wow, and you aren’t the only one! In my quick review I found NOBODY complaining about the excessively violent retribution doled out to the bully (and yes, I confirmed that this is that book); considering how you can find idiots complaining about nudes in an art gallery and people who (gasp!) smoke in Rotraut Susanne Berner’s wonderful Wimmelbücher ( ), I guess the stereotype about americans is true: nothing is too violent, but don’t you dare show a nipple!

    Now about Roger Eddy’s book, I guess there is something to it, it stuck with me all these years, but even as a child reading it, I realized that there was something “off” about this kid’s family — I would not advocate banning it or even prohibiting kids from reading it, I am just surprised that no one else seems to find it as odd as I did….

  22. Pandas might not in fact be bears, but Ma didn’t tell Pa that because she didn’t want him going next door and massacring the neighbors.

    Giant Pandas are in fact bears. The Red Panda is not.

  23. “I guess the stereotype about americans is true: nothing is too violent, but don’t you dare show a nipple!”

    Actually, that’s Facebook’s slogan.

  24. Pandas are bears. That’s resolved now. Interestingly, they are also carnivores but eat vegetarian.

    I don’t understand (not having read the book) how “It’s okay, they’re bears” would appease Papa Bear’s hatred for them. Blacks and Mexicans are demonstrably human, but that doesn’t seem to have smoothed things out in the USA.

    The cartoon version changes the bla…uh…pandas into rich city slickers (technology and lacrosse being the hallmarks of the elite). With racism falling out of fashion, the tension between rural and urban America was fair game!

    I first read “The Giving Tree” as an adult, when I was teaching in Japan. It was included, in it’s entirety, in an English textbook we used. The Boy immediately struck me as a selfish a-hole and the tree as a sap. The relationship is just too one-sided.

    As for “Love You Forever,” I think that’s really only creepy if you are a very literal-minded adult. The mother’s surreptitious cradling of the grown son is metaphorical. The thinks of him in her quiet times, such as at night, and loves him and wishes the best for him. It is a symbol of how this love is unending and a constant comfort to both parties. I doubt small children would think a mother coming to cradle her grown son was creepy. They might think it silly, but kids like silly. Or, if very young, they just might not have a frame of reference for what it is to be an adult. Reading too much into it.

    The children’s book that I love because it’s so much fun to read but that I’ve always found disturbing (as long as I could form the thought, anyway) is “Green Eggs and Ham.” It’s message is to give in to peer pressure. No matter how much you don’t want to do what someone asks you to, you should do it. I was a well-behaved child and could see Sam I Am’s argument as being, essentially “Come on. Everyone is jumping off this bridge!” I do appreciate, however, the challenge of writing a story for young children about how one should be open to trying new things without telling them to try everything that comes their way.

  25. Scientists currently agree that Giant Pandas are bears, but in the past there was much less consensus. Papa Bear just wasn’t up with the latest scientific research, and so didn’t know if he should be racist. “New Neighbors” concluded with Mama Bear giving him the latest molecular phylogenetic research on Giant Pandas, at which point Papa Bear left the pandas alone, and went off to harass some racoons.

  26. I’m gonna throw my hat into this ring and admit that I don’t care much for Dr. Seuss stories. Just a matter of taste, I guess. I was never read to as a child (well, not American stories), so I experienced children’s stories first as an adult. Which may have made me more cautious in my choices of stories to read to my stepdaughter.

    Hubby’s daughter liked the Mercer Mayer books; I saw nothing objectionable within them. He was a children’s librarian for several years and was always looking for ‘hidden meanings’ that may or may not have been intended; a few Berenstain Bears books were in the library, but he never promoted them.

    As an adult without any children, I buy children’s books by certain illustrators because I like their work: Arthur Rackham (at a local thrift store, my Mother found a book signed by him; neither of us realized it at the time); Jan Brett (some she illustrates, some she writes as well as illustrates); Michael Hague, among others.

  27. What I liked about Dr. Seuss is that he presented moral lessons WITHOUT having to point out that he was doing so. So, “The Sneetches” talks about racism without referring to races. Yertle the Turtle talks about pride and arrogance, the Butter Battle book gives a pretty pointed criticism of the Cold War. And the Lorax pays off with the sting “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, it’s not going to get better. It’s not.” It got pulled off many Oregon school library shelves because the parents who worked in the forest products industry got tired of uncomfortable questions from their kids. But it’s not just about trees.
    Dr. Seuss’s whimsical drawing style let him get away with criticism of various institutions because he isn’t hitting you over the head with the message; he’s content to let its influence be subtle. As the Berenstains are NOT.

  28. I like Dr. Seuss very much (we have at least 20 of his books), but I prefer his earlier ones, before he got too heavy-handed with the moral cannon. The exception is “The Sneetches“, which is one of my favorites(*). “Yertle” is borderline OK, but I’ve never really cared for “The Lorax“, and I don’t like the sappy “say please” mentality in “…Oobleck” at all.
    P.S. (*) – I’ve read “The Sneetches” and “The Sleep Book” so often to my kids that I can recite both from memory.

  29. I read Sendak’s Nutshell Library to my younger brothers so many times, I’d also memorized them. A quarter of a century later, I was still able to recite them to my older son.

    Then I realized he had no idea these stories actually existed in book form: he thought they were just stories I’d heard when their uncle was little.

  30. Andréa – I found a children’s book recently that talked about Koalas. I get the idea of teaching children that they are not bears and are marsupials, but I thought the book to be awful.

    Koala arrives at sleep away camp and is nervous & afraid. A brown bear cub sees her and shows her where the “bear cabin” is. The kangaroo comes by and insists that the koala does not belong in the bear cabin as she (the Koala) is not a bear. For several pages a discussion of what the koala is follows by comparing things that bears are/do and other animals. Finally it is determined that the koala has to go to the marsupials cabin and (spoiler alert) she and kangaroo find out that they have an aunt in common and are cousins. (Can a kangaroo and a koala have a literal aunt in common.)

    What I object to is the animals are shown to need to be separated by what they are. Bears cannot live with marsupials. Neither can live in a cabin with rabbits or cats or dogs. I think that gives a very bad message to children.

  31. My favorite book as child (and now, but different versions – then the children’s version) is “Little Women” one of the first books I owned. Another favorite was “A Child’s Garden of Verses” – which was my first book.

  32. ” I realized he had no idea these stories actually existed in book form: he thought they were just stories I’d heard when their uncle was little.”

    Did he know they could be set to music and sung by Carole King?

    ” I think that gives a very bad message to children.”

    Depends on whether you want your kids to go to sleep in the house with all the other people, or head out into the woods to try sleeping with the bears.

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