I saw this book on Scholastic when I searched for “Muslim” on the website, a regular endeavor of mine, and was surprised to see it pop it since the synopsis on the back doesn’t mention Muslims or Islam. So I researched it a bit, and sure enough the discrimination of a Muslim family in this tree’s neighborhood is the catalyst of this giant Oak Tree, sharing her story and enlightening the characters and readers with her wisdom. At 215 pages, this slow and thoughtful book is a short read on an AR 4.2 level. The pages are well spaced and the black and white drawings keep the reader engaged. And while I bought the beautiful hardback book, I didn’t read it, I listened to the two and a half hour audiobook version, and it was fabulous as well.
Aside from maybe Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, I can’t recall too many books being narrated by a tree, but like The Giving Tree, the lessons and wisdom come through loud and clear and stay with you long after the story has ended. Red, is an old Oak Tree that has been around for over 200 years. She has many stories that she shares with her inhabitants: the possums, the raccoons, the skunks, the birds, her best friend a Raven named Bongo, but never humans, for they must not hear her speak, that is kind of a rule. But when 10-year-old Samar’s family moves in and people don’t respond well to the new Muslim neighbors, the tree considers getting involved. Samar spends a lot of time near the tree, and the animals enjoy her presence, while most people tie wishes to the wishing tree on May 1st (Wishing Day), trees are good listeners and Samar tells Red that she wishes for a friend. This coupled with the act of vandalism someone commits against Red by carving “LEAVE” into her trunk, pushes the tree to ponder what makes people friends and how can she help Samar. When the owner of the home who’s land Red resides on decides to have her cut down, Red throws caution to the wind and speaks. Hoping to bring two kids together that need one another, and by extension their families and the whole neighborhood, Red has her work cut out for her. Luckily she isn’t alone, her animal friends are up for the challenge and the lucky reader gets to laugh with the funny animals, ponder roots, and inclusion, and friendship, and diversity through the loving gentle manner of a tree. It may be written for fourth graders, but I think everyone can draw upon the lessons, the depth, and the compassion needed to help Samar, to save Red, and to learn to be better to one another.
WHY I LIKE IT:
It flows like prose, the deliberate manner in which the story is told, grabs hold of you and halts time. I love the relevance of inclusion and differences, there isn’t a magic wand, that makes everyone like everyone at the end, but there is hope. And sometimes that is more powerful. I listened to the book with my daughter, a 6th grader, and it was nice to chat about it with her after. What makes people friends? How do people become friends? We move a lot, so she was really insightful about how sometimes friends are just friends because of proximity or because their parents are friends, she really had to think about what has kept certain people in her life, and I loved that this book gave us a starting point to have such a meaningful dialogue. There isn’t much about Islam in the book other than that the Samar’s family is Muslim and that her mom wears hijab.
None. It’s clean.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I would absolutely do this for a 3rd to 5th grade Book Club. It has so many lessons presented in a non preachy way that the students would add themselves so naturally and effortlessly into the narrative and grow from it. The book has won numerous awards, and the author is well known, so it also will encourage children to read other books of hers.
Author’s website: http://wishtreebook.com/
Teacher’s Guide: https://images.macmillan.com/folio-assets/teachers-guides/9781250043221TG.pdf