By Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso. Feiwel and Friends, 2017. 224 pages. $16.99/hardcover; $9.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 8–12.Buy from QuakerBooks
How do Friends show appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life? Quaker earthcare witnesses will likely show appreciation for Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree. Her middle-grade story addresses the reader in the voice of a red oak who is “many rings old”: “My friends call me Red, and you can, too. But for a long time people in the neighborhood have called me the ‘wishtree.’ … People come from all over town to adorn me with scraps of paper, tags, bits of fabric, snippets of yarn, and the occasional gym sock. Each offering represents a dream, a desire, a longing.”
When a Muslim girl wishes for a friend, Red is moved to help. After a threat against the immigrant family is carved into the trunk, the tree enlists help from Bongo, the crow. “Names aren’t the only way we differ from crows. Some trees are male. Some trees are female. And some, like me are both.… Call me she. Call me he. Anything will work.… Trees have far more interesting lives than you sometimes give us credit for.” Birds, humans, mammals, and trees all get to express their unique fears and desires on these pages. Red also tells lame jokes and poses pointed questions, prompting interspecies conversations on topics including friendship; shelter; and the ultimate mystery, death.
In 2013, Applegate’s novel The One and Only Ivan won a Newbery Medal. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wishtree becomes an American classic like Charlotte’s Web. Charles Santoso’s black-and-white illustrations are charming, and Applegate’s funny, smart story conveys a range of emotions, including what scares an Islamic child, what motivates a mischievous crow, and what makes an elderly oak tick.
As a great-grandmother, I felt completely in sync with the aging Red as she considers her demise and seeks help with her legacy. I had to stop reading every so often to hug this book to my heart. That doesn’t happen very often. I readily imagine adults of all ages reading Wishtree aloud to children as young as eight, with plenty to discuss in First-day school and at home.