Illustrated by Charles Santoso

“This tree … It’s almost like it’s human” (175)

Red is an old Northern Red Oak tree in a usually welcoming neighborhood with people from all over the globe. She houses several animal families, including her friend Bongo the crow. The community has given Red the important job of being a wishtree. On Wishing Day in May, but throughout the year too, people tie pieces of cloth with their wishes on the tree. When a 10-year-old Samar and her family move into one of the houses Red watches, the neighborhood turns hostile toward the Muslim newcomers. Samar hangs up the wish for a friend, and shortly after the word “Leave” is carved into Red’s bark. As tensions grow, Red decides to intervene. One night, she involves her opossum, racoon, and other animal residents to draw Stephen and Samar out. Red breaks the “don’t talk to people” rule and tells the children its history of becoming a wishtree. Samar and Stephen become friends. Soon after, they organize the community to protect Red from being cut down. On Wishtree Day Stephen and the entire school combat the mean message “Leave” with wishes that all read “Stay.” As the tree removal workers approach, all animal residents crowd around Red to protect her. “This just don’t happen,” says one of the workers in awe, “Those animals oughta be eating each other” (201). People join too, and Francesca, the lot’s owner, changes her mind. Reaching for Samar’s hand she says: “This tree is staying put. And I hope your family will too” (205).

Wishtree is a story of a community of people, animals, and plants told from the perspective of a 216-year-old oak. For climate literacy education, it helps represent ecocentrism, nature’s aliveness, conservation, the importance of collective action, youth activism, and how interconnected ecosystems are. It celebrates trees as holders of community memories. Red is a monument to the rich history of an interspecies community that welcomes diversity as its core strength. When that diversity is threatened, people and animals rally to protect it. Weaving in the story of Francesca’s great grandmother Maeve—an Irish orphan-become-doctor who had adopted an abandoned Italian baby (130-149) and was the first to choose Red as wishtree—the novel stresses kindness to strangers and the interconnectedness of human lives and nature (see human-animal kinship). “No matter where people were from,” Red tells the children, “Maeve cared for them as best she could” (133). Several animal species are introduced through their unique behaviors: possums play dead, crows use tools, and teach the reader about nocturnal animals. Wishtree calls for accepting each on their own terms and for the protection of all. Red herself has housed many creatures and provided hope to the community. By the end of the novel, the value Red provides is acknowledged and the owner approaches the city to label Red as a community tree that can’t be cut. The book ends with Red’s tip for everyone to pay more attention to trees. “If you find yourself standing near a particularly friendly-looking tree on a particularly lucky-feeling day, it can’t hurt to listen up” (211).

 ©2024 ClimateLit (Kai Resler, with additional edits by Marek Oziewicz)

More Wishtree Resources:

Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Group, 2017

Pages: 215

ISBN: 9781250043221

Audience: Little People (4-7), Questers (8-13)

Format: Novels

Topics: Collective Action, Conservation, Cultural Diversity, Ecocentrism, Ecosystems, Interconnectedness, Interspecies Kinship, Kinship with Animals, Nature's Aliveness, Nocturnal Animals, Trees, Youth Climate Activism