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Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Wishtree Book Poster Image
Moving, gentle friendship story tackles anti-Muslim bigotry.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Lots of factual information about trees and animals (e.g., tree rings tell age, hollows may be caused by woodpeckers or fallen branches, trees house animal families, crows use tools and mimic sounds, meaning of "scaffold branch" and "crepuscular"). Names of groups of animals, like a charm of hummingbirds, a murder of crows. Irish tradition of wishing tree. Includes many fresh examples of metaphors.

Positive Messages

Though hate exists, human connection and love is strong and can counteract it. Friends can disagree and still like each other. Diverse communities are "wild and tangled and colorful. Like the best kind of garden."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The tree enlists the help of animals to help Samar find a friend. Stephen becomes Samar's friend even though his parents disapprove. The community rallies to support Samar and her family and help them feel welcome. The tree's animal friends rush to support it when it's threatened.

Violence & Scariness

Someone throws eggs at Samar's house. A passing car of angry men shout "Muslims, get out!" A boy carves "LEAVE" on the tree in Samar's yard.


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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 year old Written bybarkley a January 15, 2018

Moving, thoughtful story

Beautiful, gentle, and thoughtful story told from the tree's perspective. Without being heavy-handed, includes scientific terms and environmental concepts... Continue reading
Parent of a 1 and 1 year old Written byCitronella49 June 20, 2018

Heartfelt book

I wish my kids were old enough to read this book. I just love the narrator's perspective and the way he/she speaks with just love and optimism.
Kid, 9 years old December 15, 2017

A Touching Novel By An Author You Can’t Miss

I had just read Crenshaw in a book club and decided to read this. Parents should know it tackles bigotry and prejudice against Muslims, a tiny bit slow, but a m... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 2, 2018

Touching Story

I really enjoyed "Wishtree". This story is told in a tree's perspective and is very unique. It is about friendship and how you can work together... Continue reading

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?

Book details

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