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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

wishtree, written by Katherine Applegate. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $23.99 ages 10 and up

"But this isn't a fairy tale, and there was no spell. 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 sometime surprises happen. And Samar, every spring night, reminded me that there is beauty in stillness and grace in acceptance. and that you're never too old to be surprised."

Some books come in the mail, and I can put them in a TBR pile and know that I will get to that book sometime in the future. Some arrive and go straight to the top of that pile to be read that very same day. Because I lent Katherine Applegate's incredible new book to a friend, I waited one extra day to read it. Karlyn got it back to me the day after she borrowed it, and I finished it that evening. Am I glad that I did? A resounding YES!

Red is a two hundred and sixteen year old tree - the rings prove it and offer a multitude of stories to tell. The voices of the animal and bird characters are strong, unique and amiable. The story is beautifully constructed and powerful in its treatment of intolerance as well as the need to protect our environment. Using Red as her narrator, Ms. Applegate crafts a story that will live long in the memories of those who share it. It would be a wonderful way to begin a year filled with wonderful books, if it were shared in the first days of the coming school year in any middle school classroom.

Bongo, a crow who lives among Red's branches is a terrific character - funny, caustic and supportive in the best possible ways.

"Charm," Bongo sneered. "Did you know that's
what people call a bunch of hummingbirds?"
"No, actually."
"Hummingbirds! Which, let's face it, are pretty
much just overdressed flies. But a bunch of us crows
together, guess what we get to be called?"
"A murder! A murder of crows! Can you believe
it? A bunch of trees, you're a grove. A bunch of rac-
coons? A gaze." Bongo flapped her wings. "But crows?
We're a murder."

Red plays a very special role in the neighborhood, as home to many animal families and as the depository for many personal wishes every year in early May. Those wishes are heartfelt and important to the 'wisher'. Samar is a newcomer to the neighborhood and an important human voice. Her Muslim family is the target of hate, her neighbor is a boy from her class at school whose parents also ostracize Samar's family. Both need a friend. The carved message meant for Samar's family upsets the owner of the land where Red resides. She decides that cutting the wish tree down will solve all problems. Red decides to take a stand!

Powerful, thoughtful and filled with kindness that will inspire, this is one terrific book from a very gifted author. Lucky we are to be able to share it.

I enjoyed reading this post from Katherine Applegate at Nerdy Book Club on January 17, 2017.

Red is a red oak, common and tough and beautiful. A neighborly tree in an immigrant neighborhood, it’s stood witness for over two hundred years to the best and worst of human behavior. Sadly, it’s not entirely a surprise when someone carves “LEAVE” into Red’s bark, clearly targeting the Muslim family that lives nearby. “I love people dearly,” Red says. “And yet. Two-hundred and sixteen rings, and I still haven’t figured them out.” In writing wishtree, I wanted a simple story, one where even the youngest reader would be prompted to ask that most heartbreaking of questions: why are those people being treated unkindly?  I wanted an outsider’s look at human behavior, not unlike the way Ivan the gorilla, in The One and Only Ivan, worked to understand his world. The character of Red provided me with just that kind of observer. But Red gave me something else:  hope. In Red, I found a narrator who could reassure us that — big picture — it’s going to be all right. I wanted a narrator who’d been around the block, so to speak, a historian.  ... I didn’t want to sugar-coat things. But I wanted Red to comfort readers (and me) that this, too, shall pass. That there is always goodness to be found in the midst of fear, and hope in the midst of darkness."

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