Katherine Applegate is an amazing writer, having produced picture books, intermediate-level books and young adult books. Her characters have included a gorilla, an imaginary cat and now…..a tree! Who knew that a tree, an oak named Red, who can neither talk to humans nor physically move, could be the main character of a book for 4th-6th grade readers? Yet, indeed, this old oak tells a powerful story about problems, both human and plant, and how kindness is the answer to them both. Red’s spent 200 plus years rooted near the elementary school, watching over the neighborhood and it’s residents while graciously providing a home for the area’s small animals. Red’s closest friend, Bongo, a bird, nests in his branches and adds a sometimes snarky perspective in contrast to Red’s philosophical ways. Each May, residents write a wish on a piece of cloth and tie it to Red’s branches. Over time, Red becomes known as the Wishtree. Red has seen human’s wishes come true, but has also witnessed the cruel treatment of newcomers to America who’ve settled in the neighborhood. These acts of prejudice started decades earlier when an Irish immigrant girl was the target of the spiteful behavior of others. Unfortunately, they continued to the present with the word “leave” carved in Red’s bark as a threatening message to Samar, a Muslim immigrant girl. The story intensifies as Red and Bongo concoct a plan to help Samar. Additionally, the friends must deal with the reality that Red’s roots, which have enabled growth and strength, are now interfering with the plumbing on a neighborhood woman’s property. As a result, she intends to cut Red down. The resolution of plant and human problems is satisfying and, by books’ end, having the tale told by a tree makes uniquely perfect sense.
Wishtree is written in short chapters and is Accelerated Reader level 4.2