By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
Welbeck Publishing Group
Paperback / softback
Trees can't tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories... Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighbourhood wishtree - people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red's branches. Along with a crow named Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red's hollows, this wishtree watches over the neighbourhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red's experience as a wishtree is more important than ever. Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, this is Katherine Applegate at her very best - writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.
The main character of this whimsical book is an American red oak - and Red, as he's called, is many rings old. Over the years he's seen all sorts of people come and go and all sorts of changes in his neighbourhood but he's kept on photosynthesising and kept on providing a safe haven for the local wildlife. He's also become a local landmark as a 'wishtree': people write their wishes on scraps of cloth and tie them to his branches. He's got many stories to tell and he's proud of his role in the community but he knows that he can't interfere when things go wrong. It's a rule. But has Red finally witnessed enough to tempt him to break it?
Red's casual and jokey voice and his banter with the wildlife that use his holes and branches as home help to lighten the tone of important themes. However, the vocabulary and writing seemed a little too arch (and American) for my taste; it's one to read before sharing, to check it's right for your audience. That said, the central conceit is original - using the perspective and voice of a tree to deliver strong messages about the importance of preserving the environment and welcoming outsiders. This structure gives an aura of impartiality - we are distanced from the concerns and motivations of people in the story - and makes the book a very good potential springboard for discussing two serious issues of the twenty first century with children in a non-judgmental way. Meanwhile, the story is accompanied by gorgeous black and white artwork based on the natural world that could be the inspiration for a beautiful drawing project.
224 pages / Reviewed by Louisa Farrow, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 7+