Simplicity Is Just As Powerful

One of the books that I vividly remember reading during my childhood was “ The Giving Tree”. Built on the idea of loyalty and a constant grip on hope, Shel Silverstein’s book uses short phrases, a wide layout, and a certain storyline in order to use ethos to bring about sadness.

There is a definite interaction between the text and how the story progresses. The boy initially has very simple needs. The tree serves as a friend and play space for the boy. However, as the boy ages, the amount of words in each page seem to increase. For example, when the boy was still little, one of the pages holds seven words. When the boy becomes a man, he begins to speak and have demands. As the text during the boy’s growing up increase, the words for when the tree is alone decreases. When the boy is away, the tree is caught in a lonely silence. Even though for many, many years the boy leaves the tree and takes advantage of it, the boy finally comes back, and the words in those last couple pages decrease really quickly until finally the book ends with a simple sentence: “And the tree was happy…” The author never truly reveals the motives of the boy. All we know is that the tree is happy. Even at the end.

In terms of the visuals, the drawings aren’t super complex. In order to focus only on the tree and the kid, Silverstein makes sure to only draw the kid and the tree. Also, to give a simple vibe, Silverstein doesn’t color any of the pages. He didn’t want to take away from the message being sent by adding in complex images. Also, the book only focused on scenes that included the boy and tree or only the tree. The tree is the main focus because it is the source of loyalty. The boy never appears when he goes to build his house or build his boat. The fact that only the tree is the only consistent character in the book builds a sense of ethos. When I read this book, I realized how lonely the tree was. Shel Silverstein intentionally left the tree by itself so that the reader saw that the tree had nothing but he boy.

The main rhetorical device is ethos. Knowing that little kids are the main target, Silverstein makes sure to include “strong” visuals that make the reader feel sorry for the tree but admire the constant hope the tree exudes. The simplicity also doesn’t obscure the message. The author also chose a tree out of all the choices for a character because the tree is a stationary living organism. It’s not a mobile animal so it can go explore and find new friends. Also, the tree can be reduced due to the multiple resources it offers. The reduction of the tree into a stump provides another ethos moment for the reader as well.


Analysis: As you can see if this part of the book, the boy is still young and the tree is still in its happy stages. Also, the text on the page is only one sentence. As the boy gets older, the text (demands of the boy) also increase.


Analysis: This page serves as the “beginning of the end” for the relationship between the tree and the boy.

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1 Response to Simplicity Is Just As Powerful

  1. Bryce Matlock says:

    I love your choice of “The Giving Tree”. This book was also one of my favorites as a child. One of the things I loved that you bought up was the relation between the text and the illustrations. I did not even think about how the text increases as the tree and boy grow older. This also brings up the part I loved about the book, which is how the boy and tree grow up together. It was great because they did not have to use words to specify ages, but rather pictures that tell the whole story. That is one thing I always judge as a good picture book; if you can look at the pictures and see what the book is about without any words, then you have a great book. The last thing I noticed was the simplicity with which the book was made. I also agree that without any color or complex pictures they are able to tell such a great story. These are definitely things that I want to consider while writing my picture book.

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