Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, Sept. 2017
Meet our narrator, Red, a very old and established oak tree inhabited by owls, opossums, raccoons, his best friend a crow, and a neighboring skunk family. Red is a "wishtree' and every May 1st folks come from all over to hang wishes on her branches. The tradition was started many years ago by an Irish immigrant named Maeve, who longed for a baby. She hung the wish on Red's sturdy branches and a little baby was left for her in a hole in the tree by a fellow immigrant from Italy. Now Maeve's great-granddaughter, Francesca, want to cut the tree down. Francesca is tired of cleaning up after the tree, disposing of its wishes, and paying a plumber for fixing the pipes destroyed by Red's roots. Moreover, a vandal has recently carved a word intended for a neighboring Muslim, family: "leave". Francesca doesn't want trouble and thinks it might be easier to cut Red down. Samar, a young member of the immigrant Muslim family, has already made her wish: for a friend. Red and his crow buddy, Bongo, meddle in Samar's and fellow neighbor Stephen's lives helping them to forge a friendship. In order to cement the friendship Red must break nature's code and demonstrate to the two young people that she can actually talk, sharing her and Maeve's story. Wishday arrives and with it the tree removal company. All seems lost for both Samar and Red until help arrives from unexpected places, proving that friendship and community are what matters most and may just be worth a regular visit from the plummer.
Katherine Applegate, winner of the Newbery medal for The One and Only Ivan has penned another beautiful story, perhaps worthy of a second Newbery. This is the first book I ever remember reading with a tree as a narrator. I was skeptical at first, but it works. All of the animal friends have distinct personalities and make their own contributions to save Red's life and that of their home. The writing is thoughtful and lyrical and the book reads rather quickly. Applegate manages to include within this short volume many ethical themes such as anti-Muslim discrimination, America as an immigrant nation, the importance of friendship and community, loyalty, making the right choice even if its the harder choice, and tolerance. Animal lovers will especially devour this title, but really any young reader would find something to enjoy and on which to ponder within its pages. Red is an eternal optimist and will serve as an inspiration to readers. Applegate is able to inspire emotion within the pages of this tightly woven tale and at the climax, when the neighborhood bans together, I felt a bit choked-up. Perfect for classroom use and as a read-aloud, this story has a timeless quality that will insure its permanent place on library shelves. Beautiful pencil illustrations by Charles Santoso are meant to be included in the actual finished product. The preview copy I was able to read only included a few, but they were lovely. A timely book that explores the present discriminatory climate of our society, all while keep the message at an entertaining and child appropriate level.