Year of Publication: 2017
Genre: Fantasy (Middle Grade)
Format (How I Read It): Hardcover
Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories. . . .
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.
You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.
“Animals compete for resources, just like humans. They eat one another. They fight for dominance.
Nature is not always pretty or fair or kind.
But sometimes surprises happen. And Samar, every spring night, reminded me there is beauty in stillness and grace in acceptance.
And that you’re never too old to be surprised.”
Themes: Nature. Human nature. Teamwork. Friendship. Xenophobia. Hope. Optimism. Everyone has a story to tell. Community. Life’s too short to be passive. Help others.
“Different languages, different food, different customs. That’s our neighborhood: wild and tangled and colorful. Like the best kind of garden.”
Character Development: The characters in this story were so strong and vibrant. There was some growth, but overall we don’t get to see too much development throughout the story. I felt that this story was more focused on plot and theme, which was great and just what the story needed!
“It is a great gift indeed to love who you are.”
Plot/Pacing: Short chapters. It was a fun story with talking animals/trees juxtaposed with complex human issues. I think this makes it more accessible and engaging for younger readers. There’s one flashback scene in which the pacing kind of slows down, but otherwise the pacing is great.
“Hollows are proof that something bad can become something good with enough time and care and hope.”
Writing Style: The writing style is poetic and even whimsical at times. It’s not overly complex with lots of context clues for vocabulary support. The dialogue is fantastic and I loved the animal naming system. The illustrations were also really cute!
“Making others feel safe is a fine way to spend your days.”
“Bingeability”: High. The short chapters and engaging story make it difficult to put down.
“Besides, the more you listen, the more you learn.”
Emotional Investment: High. You can’t help but fall in love with all of the characters.
“Days have a way of slipping past like raindrops in a river.”
Windows and Mirrors: Racism/xenophobia. Religious intolerance.
“Trees can’t tell jokes. But we can certainly tell stories. And if all you hear is the whisper of leaves, don’t worry. Most trees are introverts at heart.”
Overall Thoughts: I loved this book so much! A lot more than I thought I would. I was a little apprehensive going into it because I’m not usually a fan of talking animals in books. However, it ended up being so charming and perfect, and the story itself had a lot more depth than I was expecting. I should have known that if anyone could pull this off, it would be Katherine Applegate! I read and loved The One And Only Ivan last year and was apprehensive about it for the same reasons, but it was fantastic as well.
The fun characters and dialogue make it incredibly engaging, so that when the heavier themes come up they’re easier for younger readers to understand and digest. It is technically a fantasy novel since it features talking animals and trees, but it’s a really grounded fantasy that feels incredibly relatable. I also enjoyed that the story wasn’t overly optimistic or saccharine even though the main character/tree, Red, was very sweet and, at times, very optimistic. Seeing the optimism of the main character juxtaposed with the harsh reality of the real world was an apt representation of childlike innocence being confronted with the darker sides of human nature. I think kids will really be able to relate to Red as a character (even though he’s a tree!). It’s just such a well-crafted story with expressive dialogue and clever characters. I absolutely adored it.
Recommendation: This would be a great read-aloud (I’d say for grades 2 and up, though you could maybe do it with first grade as well). This would be a great read-aloud to pair with science units (maybe about plant life, animal species, adaptations, etc.). I know for me, I’d like to try to read this one with my students before we head to Outdoor School. While doing it as a read-aloud, it would also be fun to work together as a class to track the naming systems for the various animals. You could work together as a class to create a bulletin board display with all of the different animal/tree characters and their naming systems. This would also be a great book to pair with fun writing prompts. They could be larger assignments or bell-ringer activities. A fun prompt could be: If there was a Wishtree in your neighborhood, what would you wish for and why? In general, I’d recommend this book for children and adults alike! It’s a fantastic book that can be enjoyed by all.
Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!