I know I said I would review on the 15th and 30th of every month, but this one could not wait…
Different languages, different food, different customs. That’s our neighborhood: wild and tangled and colorful. Like the best kind of garden. (p. 54)
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is an amazing book told from the viewpoint of a red oak tree. Red is a city tree that has lived for 216 years (she has 216 rings). She’s also known as the wishtree, and on the first of May, people of all ages come to tie rags, tags, and even the occasional gym sock to her limbs with wishes scribbled on them. Red is an optimist and has strong opinions about things. Bongo, a pessimistic crow and a loyal friend, are two of the main characters along with Samar, a ten year old Muslim girl. Red is home to owlets, possums, raccoons and skunks. They talk with one another, but nature has one rule: Don’t talk to people.
Red lives in a neighborhood that has seen Italian, Chinese, Spanish and Nigerian families come and go. Samar, sneaks into her yard every night to visit Red and the tree creatures and Red love her. She also has a wish that she has scrawled on a cloth and tied to the tree. Samar’s wish is to have a friend. However, Samar’s family is not welcomed by this neighborhood. People throw eggs at the house. One morning, a boy writes one word – LEAVE – in Red’s trunk with a screwdriver. This hateful act is aimed at Samar’s family – hurtful – and Samar’s family starts to think about moving away.
The carving brings reporters and the police, as well as the attention of the landlady whose family has owned the property for generations. Francesca, the landlady, decides trees are troublemakers, and brings tree people to take the tree down. Red understands that her time is now very limited. She is determined to help Samar get her wish. Red becomes almost human as she attempts to heal, to connect — and yes, to break Nature’s important rule and to talk!
This book will make you think. It will remind you of the present climate in our country. I hope it makes readers think about the past as well. We have witnessed throughout history that Americans eventually embrace the latest wave of immigrants. We always become stronger for it. Like Red, the best teachers are often the most unexpected. My wish is for Applegate’s book to be read and shared with children in elementary through high school grades as well as sent as gifts to community libraries, the homes of our Senators and Congressman, and even our President. Applegate’s imagination, wisdom, and sheer storytelling magic teach us that America has always been shaped by newcomers who stay. So real. So true. You will not want to put it down. Timely, poignant, a must read!
A blessing and a burden it has been, all those wishes, all those years.
But everyone needs hope. (p. 152)