A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wishtree is by Newbery Award winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), who brings her trademark sensitivity and humor to a thorny, topical subject. The central conflict is an instance of hate aimed at a Muslim family -- a boy carves the word "LEAVE" into their tree -- but Applegate handles the incident gently. We never meet the boy who did it, and the community uses the opportunity to express welcome for the family. Applegate has crafted this as a sweet friendship story and laced it with factual information about trees and animals. The story, narrated by a talking tree, also has talking animals, short chapters, and sweet black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout, making it a perfect choice for young readers.
What's the story?
WISHTREE is narrated by a stately oak tree, Red, which keeps watch over a community of modest homes and diverse families. Red's seen a lot in the 216 years it's been alive, and is now inhabited by a host of animal families, whom we hear conversing. Red is nicknamed "the wishtree" because once a year, people come and tie wishes to its branches, including young Samar, who often visits Red and wishes she had a friend. Conflict is stirred when a strange boy carves the word "LEAVE" into the tree bark, targeting Samar's Muslim family. Also, the woman who owns the property threatens to cut down Red, since the tree's roots are interfering with the plumbing. Will the neighbors support Samar and her family? Will Samar make a friend? Can Red be spared?
Is it any good?
There's a charming whimsy to this quiet friendship book that touches on bigotry but draws on the deeper wisdom of the stately oak tree that narrates the story of its richly diverse community. Author Katherine Applegate often untangles thorny subjects for young readers, in the past addressing captive animals and homelessness. In Wishtree, she takes on anti-Muslim bigotry, handling the subject with a light touch, so the treatment doesn't feel heavy. There's sly humor, and fun friendships involving the tree, talking animals, and humans, mixed in with some meaty scientific information about trees and animals. Applegate, a lovely writer, sprinkles the story with language that's strikingly beautiful but never showy. For instance, a sky's described as "freckled with stars," a crow’s eyes are "like morning blackberries, dark and dewy," and a night sky displays a "splinter of moon."
Like many beloved kids' novels, this one is enhanced with illustration, and readers will be charmed by the black-and-white drawings by Charles Santoso (Ida, Always) scattered throughout. If, like the tree, we're sometimes baffled by angry human behavior and ugly conflict, this story's a balm, promoting acceptance and empathy, and full of quiet wisdom and soothing pleasures.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the instance of prejudice that happens in Wishtree. Why do you think the boy carved "LEAVE" into the tree? Have you noticed any bigotry in your community? How did people respond?
What factual information about trees and animals did you learn from this story? Did any surprise you?
If you had a wishtree in your yard or neighborhood, what would you wish for?
- Author: Katherine Applegate
- Illustrator: Charles Santoso
- Genre: Contemporary Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
- Publication date: September 26, 2017
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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