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Caroline Meyerson wrote to Shel Silverstein, who wrote The Giving Tree.
Dear Mr. Silverstein,
Two summers ago I volunteered in Nicaragua with the Amigos de las Americas program. Though I was extremely limited in my packing allowance, I took your book, The Giving Tree. This turned out to not only be the most important thing I packed but also, the most life changing.
Upon my arrival in Asiento Viejo, the most adorable little girl, Daniella, stood before me and asked, "Maestra, tiene un rio cerca de su casa en Los Estados Unidos?" Which means, Teacher, do you have a river by your house in America? Her deep black eyes and grin, minus her two front teeth, begged for my response. Before I could even answer her, she grabbed by hand and led me down a hardscrabble path to what looked like a mud hole. When she said with great pride this was her river, I knew then I had a lot to learn from this child.
I promise you, I was not looking at a river. I stood and stared, watching kids swim, women wash clothes, and people bathe, and wondered, is this where I was going to bathe for the summer: the same river where people were washing their muddy clothes? Living here, without running water or electricity, opened my eyes to another world and to the people who live in it.
Every morning Daniella woke me eager and ready for class. With The Giving Tree in hand, I felt like the Pied Piper leading forty kids on the mile-long walk to their school. Every day they sat at my feet mesmerized while I read them your book. I kid you not, that summer I read it more times than I could count—first in Spanish, then in English, and then again in Spanish. For most of these children, this was the only book that had ever been read to them. Because you see, Mr. Silverstein, my book, well, your book, was the only book in the village.
It didn't take them long before they understood the importance of the tree in relationship to their own environment. Miguel saw himself as "the boy," using the tree to play in; Juanita saw herself as "the boy" using the tree as shade for her family's goats; and Carlos saw the need of the tree's branches for his mother's fire to cook.
And then one day, Daniella shouted, "We have a giving a tree too" as she pointed to the river. What I had seen on my first day as a mud hole, she saw as her very own "giving tree." She felt so privileged to live near this source of water because it was not only for their amusement but also for their survival. I will be honest with you, I had struggled all summer wondering if they understood the intangible aspect of your book—the unconditional love between the tree and the boy. You can't imagine how I felt knowing that they really did get it. They really did understand!
On my last night, Daniella asked me again if I had a river in America. I could not bring myself to tell her that I lived half a step away from my river and that my water comes at the turn of a knob. So I lied and told her no and focused on how lucky she was to have her very own river and how she was just like the little boy who loved his "giving tree." I fell asleep that night knowing this child had forever carved her initials into my heart.
As I get ready to head off to college next year, I think about my experience in Nicaragua with your book all of the time. One of my college essays was to write about the most influential person in your life, and I was going to write about you, but I didn't. I think you will understand that instead I wrote about Daniella, that precious seven year old, who taught me how to be proud without being braggadocios, to see the positive in the dire of situations and that unconditional love comes in many forms. She made me realize that "intellectually stimulating" does not have to come from an encyclopedia or the Internet. Nor does it have to come from a scientist or philosopher. It can come from an open, curious mind and one beautiful, simple 64-page children's book.
Thank you, Mr. Silverstein, for giving me the tool, your book, to make a different in someone's life—Daniella's and my own. I am forever grateful.
© The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. (Used by permission.)