Illustration Series

Welcome to our guest column series "Drawn from Memory: Reflections on the Art of Illustration."

JJ Books has invited well known writers to recall images that have inspired their work, from Brahma to Beardsley and beyond.


It was a gift for his seventh birthday but innovative author Shome Dasgupta still finds himself talking to the tree.

'Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy.' 'The Giving Tree' was written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein and originally published by Harper & Row, 1964.

Being an assistant teacher at a lower school (pre K to 5th Grade), I am fortunate enough to be constantly surrounded by wonderful images-whether it's student drawings and paintings, posters, or picture and chapter books, there is always a form of creativity to look upon. Each day is basically a flickering of images, making some kind of massive and surreal cartoon.

I also have the luxury of working as an assistant at the school's library, where I am able to come across new books every day. It had been a while since I've read children's books, but now I've been reading them quite a bit to keep up with the students.  There are so many beautifully drawn books - whether it's the cover or the images inside - and the variety of artwork creates worlds upon worlds and emotions upon emotions. It's never ending.

Amidst all of these works, there is one that always comes to mind. Being around so many creative images, it made me realize how much I truly love one particular book and the pictures it contained -The Giving Tree. I remember receiving this book for my 7th birthday from a friend of mine at the bowling alley. I had never read it or heard of it before, and when I got home, my first action was to read it - I sat on my favorite red recliner in the living room and read it about four or five times in that one sitting.

I understood the text and the related overall message of Shel Silverstein's words, but it was his pictures that affected me more - or perhaps the combination of the two mediums. The drawings in The Giving Tree seem simple, I guess - I say they seem simple yet I cannot draw at all. What I mean is that the figures are simple - there's the tree and there's the boy, but there is so much that these characters exhibit within Silverstein's lines of seeming simplicity. This was the first book (and the images, too) that made me sad. The tree, always giving until there was nothing left but a stump and the boy, now old, sitting on the stump. The tree and its relationship with the boy taught me quite a bit about kindness and compassion and patience.

It wasn't through the text itself that I heard a voice in my head, but through the drawings. I remember making up this deep voice for the tree, and a playful voice for the boy just by looking at the images. I remember talking to the tree as it stood before me on the page.

Not too long ago, while at the school library, I picked up the copy of The Giving Tree and looked through every page without reading the text, and it still made me feel the same way as I did years ago when I was just a child. I still got teary eyed. I still look at the tree as my hero. I still think about the boy, both as a child, a teenager, and as an adult and how I relate him to myself. And I still use the drawings and the text in The Giving Tree as an approach to life.

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