Writer Makes Beloved Children's Books Less Co-Dependent And Weird

by Madison Vanderberg
Topher Payne Instagram

Author rewrites the endings of famous children’s books so they’re less problematic

There are a number of classic children’s books that upon second glance you realize are low-key problematic. Take The Rainbow Fish for example. That poor fish was called “rude” because he didn’t want to give all his unique and life-affirming shiny scales away. Like, damn, let a fish have his unique scales, you know? After realizing that some of the characters in beloved children’s classics don’t understand what having healthy boundaries are, a clever playwright named Topher Payne took it upon himself to alter the stories for Love You Forever, The Giving Tree, and The Rainbow Fish so that they would have more emotionally balanced endings.


Payne got the idea to start re-writing the endings to children’s books when he was tasked with reading a book aloud for a storytime to raise money for the Atlanta Artist Relief Fund. He was trying to find a book to read when he came across The Giving Tree on his bookshelf. The Giving Tree tells the story of a boy who takes a lot from a tree who gets nothing in return. Depending on who you talk to, it’s the story of selfless love or an abusive relationship.

“I came across The Giving Tree on my shelf and thought, ‘Ugh. I hate the Boy. The Boy is the worst.’ And then I joked with my husband about how there should be an alternate ending where the tree sets boundaries and they enjoy the benefits of an interdependent relationship. And then I remembered I’m a writer and I could just do that,” Payne tells Scary Mommy.

So then Payne literally wrote a new version of The Giving Tree called “The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries” which Payne calls “an alternate ending” to Shel Silverstein’s classic book. After that, Payne wrote two more alternate endings for Love You Forever and The Rainbow Fish in a collection he’s calling “Topher Fixed It.”

“So I did the alt ending for The Giving Tree, which is a lovely book but I’m not crazy about the messaging, followed by The Rainbow Fish, which I take huge umbrage with, and I posted the endings online for parents to print out,” he tells us.

Love You Forever tells the tale of a woman and her enduring love for her son, which is cool, except for the part where the mom sneaks into her grown son’s bedroom while he sleeps. That is what a therapist would call, “an enmeshed relationship.” In Payne’s version, the adult son installs locks on his window so his mom can’t sneak in with a caption that reads, “I love you forever, I like you for always, but what’s going on here isn’t working for me.”

Funny, poignant, emotionally healthy — you can download Payne’s “fixed” versions of the three books on his website with a suggested donation to The Atlanta Artist Relief Fund.