Discussion Guide for “The Wish Tree”

Artwork by Lindsey Shaklee

This is a beautiful story by Katherine Applegate is about community, friendship, the importance of home (a “sense of place”), the interconnection of plants and animals and people.  I strongly recommend this as a starting place for eco-based discussions!

How To Use The Discussion Guides:
My suggestion is: before you begin reading the story with your child, take 10 minutes to look over the guide. Decide which of the explorations seem right for you and your child. Next go through the book and mark the passages with a post it note or book darts. At the end of each read aloud session, flip to a marked passage and discuss the quote or idea.
Science ideas:

tree clipartOn page 21: “Red” (the old Oak Tree that is the narrator) tells the reader that trees can in fact communicate, just not to people. It turns of this is more true than most of us realize! In resent years scientists have realized that plants do in fact communicate with one another. You and your child might enjoy leaning a little about how trees communicate with one another. A good, short video to watch on “tree communication” is the BBC’s youtube video: “How trees secretly talk to one another” (a google search should find it pretty quickly). If you and your older child are really fascinated by the idea of trees you might enjoy reading some of the book The Inner Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben .
On page 25: we learn about all the animals that Red is a home for. This might be an opportunity to discuss the importance of trees as habitat. Project learning tree has a great activity for exploring trees as animal habitats.  Click here for the link.

Another idea is to sit outside by a tree near your home and see how many animals (or signs of animals) you can count –don’t forget to look for insects and spiders. How many holes and nests can you find?
tree clipartOn page 61: Francesca begins talking about cutting down “Red”. This is a good time to talk about the value of one tree, what can one tree do for the environment—and by extension the value of what one person can do. Here is one website that might help get you started as you think about what one tree can do.  (it’s worthwhile to note that you will find all different numbers for things like how much oxygen does one tree produce, because A LOT of things influence how much oxygen a tree can produce) Now, brain storm how much can one person (or rather, one family of people) do!

tree clipartOn page 15: “Bongo thinks I’m too optimistic for such an old tree. It’s true, I am optimistic. I prefer to take the long view on life, Old as I am. I’ve seen both good and bad. But I’ve seen far more good than bad.“
On page 25: “Hollows are proof that something bad can become something good with enough time and care and hope.”
What beautiful quotes! And what a perfect opportunity to discuss optimism vs pessimism. Are you and your child more “Bongo” or more “Red”? Also, you might take this as a chance to learn about some good things that are happening in the environment today. Psychologists recognize that to experience the nugget of good, even among the bad things are going on around us, is one of the most important qualities for emotional resilience. We hear so much doom and gloom, it’s important to balance it with some positive news! Here are a few to check out:

Plastic becomes a floating garden on a city river


Other themes
Other themes in The Wishtree that you might want to discuss with your children include:
• Friendship
• Compassion vs Bullying

Ideas to celebrate the whole book

A wishtree is a real tradition in Ireland. In Ireland the wish tree is usually a Hawthorn tree. Hawthones flower in May which coincides with the May Day celebration which a Wishing tree is a part.

Unfortunately, the tradition can lead to litter around the area of the tree. So, if you choose to honor the wishing tree tradition with your own wish tree considering making an indoor wish tree. Here are a couple of suggestions.
1. Find a few small branches that have fallen in the winter. Cut them to a nice size and put them in a vase or large mason jar. Add some rocks to keep your “tree” stable and now you can decorate your wishtree with rags and wishes.
2. Another option is to make a paper cut out of a tree to put on a wall and add paper tags with wishes.

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