Texas Girl Reads received a copy of this book from the Kid Lit Exchange Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
“Making others feel safe is a fine way to spend your days.”
As a child, I was one of those people who believed that their stuffed animals had real feelings. I just knew they hurt when I hurt, they were happy when I was happy, and they were definitely chatting with each other when I wasn’t around. In Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, a similar concept is visited, but instead it is nature that thinks, feels, and talks, namely a giant red oak named, what else, Red. I loved this book, for more than the novelty of a talking tree. Wishtree addresses a larger issue at hand, one that unfortunately seems to be more common these days, and that is of the equality of human beings. Wishtree is a great book on its own, but it is a wonderful way to gently introduce the one of the hard topics we NEED to be talking about with our kids.
Red is a giant red oak tree who has lived in the neighborhood for a very long time. He is hundreds of rings old, and has watched families come and go, some welcome and some not. Red and Red’s best friend, a crow named Bongo, help other animals take shelter in Red’s branches and watch over the neighborhood. Animals who would normally eat each other in nature live in peace under the old oak. Red is also the neighborhood “wishtree”-each year, children and adults write a wish on a piece of paper or material and tie it to Red’s branches, hoping their wishes will come true. When Samar and her family move in, she wishes to make a new friend. Her family is Muslim, and not everyone is happy to see them. Red breaks all the rules to help her wish come true, but will it come at the cost of her long and distinguished life?
I love the concept of this old tree having seen so much over the years, and showing how different animals in nature get along, even though people can’t always figure that out. Kids will love reading about Red and Bongo and all the silly squabbles the other animal groups have, but they will learn a much more important lesson after reading Wishtree. While I do wish that Applegate had written Samar as a more rounded character, Samar does experience a real situation of people not wanting her family around because they’re different. This is incredibly important to talk to kids about, instead of pretending those problems don’t exist. It is a simply-written story that handles some heavy subject matter in a gentle way.
Wishtree is an excellent book to introduce the tough subjects of racial inequality and tolerance to younger kids, and will open up different questions at every age level. This is categorized as middle grade, but I really think it’s more for elementary grades. I would suggest ages 6-10. This would be a wonderful book to read aloud, to allow questions to come as the story goes on, as well as to add anything you as a parent or educator want to include. Wishtree is a beautiful book and couldn’t come at a more important time in our country, when we all need to come together under our own wishing trees and work together with our children to inspire real change.
Wishtree will be published on September 26, 2017.