My son loves "The Giving Tree," by Shel Silverstein. And I also remember it being a favorite of mine as a kid.
I vaguely remember it from childhood as having some mildly sad themes, and most people I ask (who haven't read it lately) think of it as something along the lines of "how relationships shift as people grow up or change."
But, reading it as an adult, its lesson seems profoundly disturbing:
It seems to be a book about a (metaphorically) abusive relationship. It's the story of a tree who gives literally everything she has - and is -to a man who takes and takes, giving nothing in return, not even appreciation. Until she is literally nothing but a trunk. And then she's still happy because this unrepentant, selfish boy can get pleasure from sitting on the remaining, broken bits of her.
There's obviously one good lesson in here, that I already embrace and try to highlight:
There's often nothing that can bring more joy than trying to make someone else happy.
But has anyone found a way to explain or position the relationship in a way that doesn't seem to imply:
"... and even if someone never gives back, and never seems to care for you, you should keep on doing what makes them happy, no matter how imbalanced the relationship is?"