Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Katharine Applegate
For ages 9 and up
Feiwel & Friends, 2017   ISBN: 978-1250043221

Trees can do many amazing things. They can create food in their leaves, provide a myriad of creatures with a home, and live for a long time. And they can talk. They will happily talk to each other and to the creatures that are they neighbors. However, they are not too keen on talking to humans. This is not surprising when you think about it. After all, humans think nothing of turning trees into “tables and tongue depressors.” In fact, there is an unwritten rule in the natural world that no creature or plant is supposed to talk to people.

Red is an oak tree and it is a wishtree. Every year on the first of May, people cover the tree with wishes that are written on scraps of fabric and paper. Some of the wishes are little more than a piece of yarn or a curl of ribbon, but each one “represents a dream, a desire, a longing.”

Red has looked after a lot of animal babies of one kind or another and this year it has a bumper ‘crop’ of young creatures living on its branches, in its trunk, and around its roots. Red never imagines that it will take a human youngster into its care but this is exactly what happens.

Samar and her family move into the blue house that is situated near Red, and when the weather warms she ventures out at night to sit beneath Red in the darkness. Red’s animal friends , especially Bongo the crow, have no fear of the girl and happily seek out her company. Bongo even gives her gifts to express his devotion. One night, Samar comes to Red and leaves behind a wish. Her face is tear stained and she whispers that she would like to have a friend.

Unfortunately, just a few days after Samar offers up her wish, someone does something unthinkable. A boy carves the words LEAVE into Red’s trunk. The message is directed at Samar and her parents. Red has seen that some people have been unkind to the new family. The tree has seen the eggs thrown at the door and has heard the shouts of “Muslims, get out.” This new insult upsets Red. Red has seen many things in its long life but the treatment of Samar’s family tries its patience sorely. Red decides that something needs to be done to give Samar her wish, never imagining that doing so will cause Red to break the unwritten rule.

This extraordinary book is told from the point of view of a tree. One might think that a tree could not possibly have much of a story to tell, but Red has a lot to say, and it behooves us all to listen carefully because what Red has to say is important. Red is a wise being who has seen a great deal in its lifetime, and who has still managed to hold onto its sense of humor. Red challenges readers, both children and adults, to look at their world and to consider what they have to offer.