Sunday, January 14, 2018

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate illustrated by Charles Santoso

Please, before you read my thoughts on Wishtree,  watch the publisher trailer - it is just perfect!  Now pick up this book and peel back the dust jacket. You don't want to miss the carefully embossed leaves underneath.

Be patient. Read this book slowly.  Let Katherine Applegate introduce the narrator Red (a tree) and his friend Bongo (a crow).  I hope when you get to page 52 you will have the same reaction I had - I gasped.  Such is the power of just one word.  The tone of this book flips right over :


Red has been growing in this place for over two hundred years. Red is exactly two hundred and sixteen rings old.  Red has watched human families grow and change, Red has sheltered hundreds of small animals and Red has listened to secrets and wishes.  One of the newest residents is Samar and her family. She loves to sit under the tree, being still and gradually the small creatures who shelter there gather around her. Samar writes her wish to tie to the tree - it is for a friend.  Why is this an issue :

"A few months ago, a new family, Samar's family, rented the blue house. They were from a distant country. Their ways were unfamiliar. Their words held new music. ... Our neighborhood had welcomed many families from faraway. What was different this time?"

A few weeks ago I received an invitation from a Goodreads book group to join a discussion about Wishtree.  I put this book on my list and yesterday made a special trip into the city to pick up a copy. Today I read it all in one sitting but really I didn't want the magic to end.

Names are a source of humor in this story.  This lightness of touch balances the heavy themes of intolerance, violence and prejudice.  There are also moments of  wisdom and odd ball jokes shared by Red.

  • Trees - all have the same name red oaks are called Red, sugar maples are called Sugar, junipers are called Juniper and so on.
  • Crows - some have human names, some are named after manoeuvres and the crow in this story Bongo is named after the bongo drums played by a band in this neighborhood - this is a sound she likes.
  • Skunks - all named after pleasant scents such as FreshBakedBread. 
  • O'Possums - named after things they are afraid of such as Flashlight.
  • Owls - take sensible names like Harold.
  • Raccoon mothers are not good with names so all their offspring are called You!

Katherine Applegate talks to Nerdy Book Club and shares her thoughts and hopes for Wishtree.  You can read the first twelve pages here but then please find the book because the most important parts happen after page 52!  Here is a long video with Katherine where she talks about her book.  Take a look at this review which includes discussion questions.

This is my new favourite book! I give it a ten star rating.  It is right up there with Because of Winn Dixie Sarah, Plain and Tall and all books by Patricia MacLachlan I have talked about on this blog.  I do hope Wishtree wins some big prizes so then it can come to the attention of book buyers and libraries everywhere.

Wishtrees are real and come from Ireland and here is a photo of one.  They are usually hawthorn trees.  I expect to see lots of school library with wish trees for everyone to fill.

I was excited to discover Charles Santoso is Australian and he lives in Sydney and he also illustrated the precious book Ida Always.

A deceptively simple, tender tale in which respect, resilience, and hope triumph.  Kirkus Star review

Another stunning effort from Applegate. This thoughtful read is a top choice for middle graders.  School Library Journal

No comments: