Wish Tree

Have you ever seen  a Wish Tree?

Walking along a beach on Cape Cod with friends, we rounded a bend along the sand where it meets the shore.  This was a remote stretch of the beach, quite a distance from the usual spot where people set up their chairs and umbrellas. The walk was long.

And there it was.  An old felled tree.  It was covered with shells, each one placed carefully. The shells were a multitude of types and sizes.  The enormity of what was right in front of us was enough to stop everyone in their tracks.

I knew right away it was a Wish Tree.

“Look at all those shells.  They’re so pretty”, said my friend.  And she reached to take one.

“No!” I shouted.  Everyone looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“Don’t you know what this is?  It’s a Wish Tree.  Every shell is a wish that someone has put on this tree.”


“These are sacred.  Well, they are to the people who placed their wish on the tree.  No wonder it’s out of the way, far from tourists.  The shells are so beautiful.”

More silence.

“I’d like to make a wish.  Would you?”

I carefully looked for just the right shell, one that spoke to me.  I picked the right one, and I had a ‘moment’, making a wish and hanging it on the tree.

Alice did the same thing.  And Jane and Paula did, too.  We were quiet. Everyone was now part of the Wish Tree.  How can so many thoughts and emotions run like a speeding train, and then settle into a warm, vibrant sunset, all in a matter of minutes?  That’s what happened at the Wish Tree.

While I had heard of Wish Trees, I had never seen one until now.  Lucky for me that I had read the outstanding YA book Wishtree by Katherine Applegate.

She also wrote the Newbery Award winning book, The One and Only Ivan.  Yes, she is that good.  Wishtree should have won the Newbery, too.  I read the book aloud to my grandchildren – four hours, multiple days, and we never stopped.

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.

Thanksgiving a few years ago 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. 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 of the heart.  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.

And to think that I happened upon a real Wish Tree on Cape Cod.  Wow!


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.
This entry was posted in Book Review, books, chapter reading, children's books, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Nature, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children, wonder and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

83 Responses to Wish Tree

  1. Ritu says:

    That is just awesome 🥰

  2. Darlene says:

    How wonderful that you found a wish tree. I have heard so many good things about the book. It must have been very special to share it with your grandchildren. 😊💕

  3. beetleypete says:

    I had never even heard of a wish tree. But you took me to the beach, and I was sitting with your grandchildren, listening to you read the story. That’s magic indeed, Jennie. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. GP Cox says:

    What a wonderful story.

  5. Norah says:

    That was a very special moment, Jennie. And how wonderful that you had read about, and therefore recognised, the wish tree. Katherine Applegate’s story sounds an amazing read. I’ll have to look out for it. Thank you. May your wish come true.

  6. beth says:

    I absolutely love this! I have never heard of a wish tree but would love to find one, and how lucky you were to have done just that. I’ll keep an eye out for the book

    • Jennie says:

      It was the book that opened my eyes to learning about wish trees. I highly recommend it!! It has ‘Beth’ written all over it. And then to come upon the real deal… just wow!

  7. Sue Vincent says:

    I’ve not seen one made with shells before 🙂

  8. tidalscribe says:

    On Glastonbury Tor we came across a wish tree with many ribbons tied on.

  9. I’ve learnt about a wish tree today, a great story 🙂

  10. Something you won’t forget in a hurry!

  11. Opher says:

    I’ve seen ‘Prayer Trees’ along the pilgrimage routes in England – usually by old sacred pagan wells. Pilgrims tie coloured strips of cloth on the tree and make a wish/prayer. They are linked in to the old religion.

  12. An amazing story, Jennie. It was good for your group that you had the experience with the wish tree. Your grandchildren must have been in heaven listening to a wonderful book read to them by a wonderful person.

  13. I had never heard of a wish tree until now, but totally believe they’re around. When I was a girl there was a Redwood tree in our yard that I climbed almost daily and spent hours and hours in it, telling it my secrets and wishes.

    Your story gave me goosebumps again! It’s wonderful. I’ll have to add this book to my reading list.

    • Jennie says:

      I love your tree story, Deborah. Don’t you feel that people have connected with trees for eons? I think wishes and secrets naturally emerge. The book is really wonderful. I hope you get to read it. Many thanks! 🙂

  14. Jennie, As you my remember this is one of my all time favorites! I’m so happy you found a real, true Wish Tree. And how special it was to find it on a Cape Cod beach with your friends!

    • Jennie says:

      It was unexpected and a welcome surprise. Very appropriate for a remote stretch of beach. I do remember this is one of your favorite books! Mine, too. Thanks so much, Susan. 🙂

  15. What a lovely idea, Jennie. I had not heard of wish trees. I’ve heard of the shoe tree, but this is much nicer. Costume party at my place tomorrow — think up your glad rags! Hugs on the wing!

  16. What a lovely thing to have come across so accidentally, Jennie. Wishtree sounds like a truly inspirational book.

  17. Ren says:

    Ya know, Jennie….somehow, this does not surprise me. It’s like, “What do you wish to experience next?” Love and hugs to you. I cannot imagine how it felt to ‘stumble’ upon a Wish Tree. And having the honor of educating others, while they also partook in the moment of ‘wishing’. Such a beautiful story. Thank you!

    • Jennie says:

      It was a moment, Ren. A big one. Unexpected, beautiful, soulful. My friends understood. I’m so glad you liked this story. The book is one of the best, too. Best to you! 🙂

  18. Ren says:

    Are you familiar with the children’s book, “Love, a story about who you truly are” by Anita Moorjani?

  19. L. Marie says:

    I’ve never seen a wish tree–though I wish I had. 😊 I’ve heard of this book. Thank you for the great review of it!

  20. Luanne says:

    Wow, what a find! So cool. I can’t help but wonder why someone’s first reaction would be to take a shell.

  21. Ellen says:

    One of my most enjoyed activities is a Book Swap that is held at The Saylesville Friends Meeting House on every third Saturday of the month. This Quaker Society of Friends wood frame structure was built in 1703-4, with a two story expansion added c.1745 that has eight inch hand-cut beams and irregular sized hand-cut floor boards. One of the signers of The Declaration of Independence was married here. It is the oldest continuously used Quaker Meeting House in Rhode Island. Volunteer members of the church host the open to everyone book swap that offers a vast array of books that are displayed on the ancient pews. There are no rules : Bring books if you wish, take as many as you want, return or keep as desired. It was here that I found the book “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate about a year ago. Although being way beyond young adult, I was enchanted! I dutifully returned the book as it is meant to be shared with others. Then I purchased a copy for myself that was read again and has now traveled amongst family and friends. The Wish Tree that you were so fortunate to discover sounds exquisite. What a delightful experience to have in the company of your friends. Thank-you!

    • Jennie says:

      What a lovely story, Ellen. Quaker Meeting Houses are truly beautiful. Of course I love history and architecture. I attended a wedding at one outside of Washington, DC. And, you found Wishtree at the book swap there! Wonderful. I find YA books to be some of my favorite reads. I feel very fortunate to have found a real wish tree. It was a ‘moment’. I’m so glad you enjoyed this story, Ellen. Thank you.

  22. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, once again–this is simply wonderful!

  23. I loved everything about this post!! I’d never heard of a wishtree before. How stunning that you found such a beautiful example of one on your beach ramble! I think my favorite part of your post comes from Red: “In a mysterious dance of sunlight and sugar, water and wind and soil, we build invisible bridges to connect with the world.” What a glorious sentence!

  24. Pingback: Wish Tree ~ Jennie Fitzkee | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  25. joylennick says:

    What a lovely story. I too had never come across a Wish Tree. Only one of my three sons was a devoted reader and he made up for the other two. I used to tell them all short stories when they were very young, and it’s ironic that the most active of the three, now sells books, among other things, for a living…What a rewarding job you have, Jennie. x .

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Joy. I hope you come face to face with a wish tree one day. Your story is a lovely one, too. How wonderful it is to tell stories to children. I love doing that, too. And now, you have a son who who was the reader and is selling books. That is terrific. I do have a rewarding job. Luck me! Reading aloud is the best thing I do. 🙂

  26. Dan Antion says:

    I love the story, Jennie. I had never heard of a wish tree.

  27. jenanita01 says:

    I could use a wish tree right now…

  28. Oh so wonderful! Sharing…

  29. Thank you Jennie! Always wonderful quotes by Charles. Appreciate your reblogging, because it always remembers me too. Michael

  30. dgkaye says:

    Amazing story Jennie. No, I’ve never seen a wish tree and sure would love to some day. 🙂 x

  31. I love this story! I believe that there is a tradition similar to this with stacking rocks on top of one another? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Jennie says:

      I think you’re exactly right. The only difference is that a wish tree is there for anyone who wants/needs to make a wish. I thought stacking rocks was for one person, and please correct me if I’m wrong. The bottom line is making wishes.

  32. Learned something new today. Yay!! I’ll have to look for that book but the fact that you knew about and stopped your friends from moving the shells from the tree is just a delightful way to educate more adults who were unaware as was I. I could see this going a long way at school. Loved this story so much…as usual. 😉

    • Jennie says:

      Had I not read Wishtree, I wouldn’t have known about wish trees. I felt lucky to know what the tree was, and to share something sacred with my friends that might have been overlooked as just a pretty tree decorated with shells. I’m glad you enjoyed this story, Marlene.

  33. Mireya says:

    I just made my wish. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s