The Book That Changed Thanksgiving

When I visit with the grandchildren, a beloved ritual is reading a story before bedtime. The musicality of words floating into the ear and going into the mind becomes an arrow that pierces the heart.  It always happens that way.

This Thanksgiving I brought along plenty of books to read aloud.  I also brought a new book to read.  Not a read-aloud for the children, but a book for me.  I never expected what would happen next.

The children were camping out and snuggled in sleeping bags in the bedroom. It was fun, but didn’t lend itself to seeing the pictures in a picture book.  I thought I would read to them a little of my book, Wishtree by Katherine Applegate (the author of the award-winning book The One and Only Ivan).  I hadn’t read the book, so we were all jumping into something new.

What started as one night of bedtime reading became the focus of our holiday together.  The book is outstanding.  It plucks at every scintilla.  There is no stopping, as the storyline keeps going.  So, we had to keep going.  We read the next day, and the next night, and so on, until we finished the book.  211 pages.  Just like chapter reading in my classroom at school, I was reading aloud with no pictures.  The big difference was reading the book in only a few days.  Somehow, that made reading more exciting.  Breathless.  Heart pounding.

Red is an oak tree with two hundred and sixteen rings.  He’s been around a long time, and he tells the story.  He’s a Wishtree, with a long and honorable history.  On the first day of May it’s been a tradition for people to put wishes on his tree, written on paper or cloth and  tied to his branches.  Sometimes those wishes are also whispered to Red.  He talks about his neighborhood:

Different languages, different food, different customs.  That’s our neighborhood: wild and tangled and colorful.  Like the best kind of garden.

Red talks about himself and people:

For a tree, communication is just as complicated and miraculous as it is for humans.  In a mysterious dance of sunlight and sugar, water and wind and soil, we build invisible bridges to connect with the world.

Can you imagine reading those sentences to children?  I had to stop.  My grandchildren said not a word.  Words were not necessary because Red had said them all.  We were humbled.  Spellbound.

The story is centered on two children in the neighborhood, Samar and Stephen, the host of animal families who live in Red’s tree, and Francesca, whose family has owned Red for centuries.  It is history and uncovering the past, diversity and acceptance both then and now, friendship, nature, understanding, and great adventure.  Oh yes, adventure.  My grandchildren and I fell in love with Bongo the bird, Red’s best friend.  Lewis and Clark are cats, FreshBakedBread is the mama skunk, and on and on, with animals who are the supporting characters in this book.

When someone carves LEAVE on Red, the plot thickens.  This becomes sleuth work.  The stories of the children, and Francesca’s past, and also Red’s past come together.  It is captivating.  The message it sends is a beacon of hope and promise.

Like Red, I’ve been around a long time.  I know the best.  And, this is one of the best.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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74 Responses to The Book That Changed Thanksgiving

  1. Ritu says:

    Sounds Awesome Jennie!

  2. beetleypete says:

    Using the tree as the central character is indeed inspired. I can sense your enthusiasm for this book in every word, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Opher says:

    It sounds like a wonderful book. I’ll have to look it up. I’m reading Homo Deus which must be the most thought provoking book I have ever read.

  4. Darlene says:

    What a perfect way to spend Thanksgiving with your grandchildren. I have heard of this book before and it sounds wonderful!! My grandchildren called me the book grandma and that was before I started writing books! Great memories of reading to them as well.

  5. Dan Antion says:

    The story sounds drlightful but reading it to the children must have been amazing.

  6. It is absolutely one of the best. I fell in love with it when I read it a few weeks ago and will be publishing a post about it this week. I don’t usually just focus on one book, but Wishtree definitely warrants it! And I was thinking about you, Jennie, and reading it aloud as I wrote my post. – Susan

  7. What a fabulous sounding book, Jennie. A story told by a giant tree. Wonderful.

  8. Meg says:

    Sounds like my kinda book too, Jennie. Thanks! M

  9. ren says:

    Sounds like my kind of book! What a grand experience you all had.

  10. Thank you for sharing this great story with us. It will be gifts for my grandchildren, even though they are 8th and 9th grades in school, I am sure they will love it and me too. Karen 🙂

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is another wonderful post from Jennie!

  12. I just ordered it. You’ve made it sound so captivating. My kind of story especially since I’m having a childhood late in life. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marlene. You will absolutely love the book. Isn’t childhood late in life the best?!

      • Yes, it is. Like a two year old, I only do what I want to do now and eat what I want to eat. (within reason of course) and spend time with the people that matter to me. I get to play in my craft and sewing room with all my favorite toys and read good books and watch happy shows. It’s the best! 🙂 I’ll let you know about the book. Have ordered Myrtle the Purple Turtle as well. Heard a lot of good things about it as well. By Cynthia Reyes.

      • Jennie says:

        Fabulous, Marlene! 😀

  13. Anony Mole says:

    A review as a story as a review. They should all be done this way. Well done.

  14. ksbeth says:

    this sounds amazing, jennie –

  15. A. L. Kaplan says:

    Sounds great. Thanks for the suggestion.

  16. Can I bring my sleeping bag and listen, too?
    Love this!

  17. I love this. Not surprised at all that your grandchildren were mesmerized, Jennie. What a beautiful book and the perfect activity for Thanksgiving. 🙂

  18. Jennie says:

    They absolutely can. When the language is beautiful, it invites the reader. Children are far better at some things than adults.

  19. Jennie, what a marvelous post you made of this review. It’s much more than just a review. Well done. Hugs!

  20. reocochran says:

    I’m so glad you brought this book to my attention, Jennie. 🌳 It’s been awhile since I added a new children’s book to our collection. We have an almost like history book called, “The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Craighead George, illustrated by Thomas Locker. We traditionally read it before I head up to see my Mom and usually hang out with my brothers, sister-in-law and sometimes youngest daughter, Felicia.
    I will look for this book at the library and share it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is really a lot of pages, though! I’m so amazed your grandkids stayed for this length of time. What a wonderful and memorable experience. ❤ The sleepover with sleeping bags sounds like a special activity!

    • Jennie says:

      Now I want to read your book! I adore Thomas Locher illustrations (Mare on the Hill is my favorite book of his) and the author is one of the best. I know you will love Wishtree. The nine and seven year-olds barely moved, and the five-year-old occasionally played with a puzzle or blocks while listening, but she soaked up every word. I hope it is a contender for the Newbery award.

      • reocochran says:

        I hope your Wishtree book is a Newberry Award winner, Jennie. I have had a chance to check at the library yet.
        I’m so glad you knew Thomas Locher’s illustrations, too. Thank you for mentioning Mare on the Hill. 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        Many thanks, Robin. I think your grandies would enjoy Mare on the Hill the next time you’re at the library. Happy weekend to you! If you can, let me know how Randy is from time to time. 😀

  21. That sounds like an amazing book – and a magical experience, reading it to your grandchildren. Reading aloud is such a special experience, for both parties; I have fond memories of both!

  22. Tina Frisco says:

    Children are amazing. Their depth of understanding can astonish at times. My oldest nephew loved having me tell him stories that I made up on the fly. He preferred this to reading picture books. I think he enjoyed visualizing images of his own creation to having them presented to him. What a lovely experience to share with your grandchildren, Jennie ❤

  23. Wishtree has been in my pile for a while and now I’m even more excited to get to it. Sounds like you had a perfect holiday visit!

    • Jennie says:

      I had not read the book, so plunging into reading it to my grandchildren was definitely a perfect holiday visit. I hope it is a Newbery contender. The best part (and most validating) was the reaction from my grandchildren. Wow! Thank you, Marcia. 🙂

  24. dgkaye says:

    What a clever idea to use the tree as the central character. I’m bookmarking this one Jennie, thank you. 🙂

  25. I still read before bedtime…it leads to such magnificent dreams!

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