Hope, and a Wish Tree

This is a year of Hope.  Children need it.   Adults need it.  When they find Hope, it carries them along.  Far.  Wish Trees are beacons of hope, where people give their most important and sacred wishes.  They have been all over the world for centuries.

We’re planning a Wish Tree at school in the spring.  It will help children.  They need Hope and Wishes.

Have you ever seen a Wish Tree?

Walking with friends along a Cape Cod beach, we rounded a bend where the sand meets the water.  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 onto 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 – for 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 the 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 books, and this is one of the best.

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

I am happy to bring the tradition of a Wish Tree to school.  The children need this.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty 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 am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, children's books, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Inspiration, Nature, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, wonder and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

104 Responses to Hope, and a Wish Tree

  1. A very great idea, Jennie! I remember something similar from Christmas celebrations, in the past. I am sure the pupils will love it. Thank you for sharing, and have a beautiful weekend!. Michael

  2. Alice Collins says:

    What a wonderful discovery that was! Thank you for the memory, dear friend.

    • Jennie says:

      That was quite a memorable day! One of our best. I brought the idea to school of doing a wish tree, as this has been such a hard year for children. Of course I told everyone about our finding the tree on the cape. 🥰

  3. beth says:

    I love wish trees and our whole school read that book and the little ones had it read to them and it was wonderful

    • Jennie says:

      Really? The whole school? That is wonderful!!!

      • beth says:

        yes, we fund raised and bought a copy for each family and they all read a chapter each night to the kids (to promote family reading and discussion), and then each class had questions to answer or talk about with each other the next day, and they all enjoyed it at different levels, the big kids because it was an easy read but created great discussions, the younger kids because they understood it on a different level, but still talked it through with teachers, and created wish trees

  4. beetleypete says:

    I only found out about wish trees by reading your blog. I’m sure your school will have a fabulous wish tree, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      Just think, if you ever accidentally stumble upon a wish tree, you will immediately know what it is. Quite a moving experience. I’ll keep you posted on the one at school.

  5. Dan Antion says:

    I think I’ve heard of wish trees (probably here), but I’ve never seen one. What a great idea for the children.

  6. quiall says:

    It sounds like a wonderful book! And what an incredible idea to bring into the classroom. Your children are learning wisdom in ways that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. They are thinking outside the box and actually being shown how to embrace everything. I would love to see them in 20 years.

    • Jennie says:

      I have had the good fortune to see some of my students 20 years later. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, Pam. The book is truly wonderful. I’ll keep you posted on the wish tree at school.

  7. Paula King says:

    WOW – my name in lights! Nice article!


  8. Ritu says:

    Love this, 💜💘😻

  9. Darlene says:

    Such a wonderful book and so needed right now. I’m happy you will be creating a wish tree with the students. They will love it.

    • Jennie says:

      I never imagined that this wonderful book would be even more important and powerful now. Here’s to a wish tree at school and helping children! Thank you, Darlene.

  10. what a magical memory you made with your friends. I love the idea of a wish tree at school, a tree of hope and dreams. a tree that holds the magic and power of learning for all to see

  11. Lokesh Sastya says:

    Thank you so much for the post, Jennie. The concept of the wish tree is new for me.💐💐🌳

  12. I love wish trees and I’m thrilled you’re bringing this to your school Jennie!

  13. How magical that you four found your wish tree! The book sounds wonderful. I’m going to go look for it.

  14. A great idea, Jennie. Are you going to use shells or notes?

  15. Orvillewrong says:

    For a child a wish tree would be magical!

  16. What a great story, Jennie, and this book sounds wonderful. You are a terrific grandmother. My grannie used to read to me too. That is how I learned about the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Have a lovely weekend, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Robbie. I think reading aloud is the best thing I do for children. Your boys would love hearing you read aloud Wish Tree. They’re not too old. Be prepared if they won’t let you stop reading. 🙂 And, guess what chapter book I’m reading in class right now? Yup, Little House in the Big Woods. I always follow that book with Little House on the Prairie. Enjoy the weekend.

  17. Vivi says:

    I had never heard of a wish tree like this one. I have known others but not this particular ones.

  18. An actual wish tree will ensure that those kids never forget about the wish tree story.

  19. What a wonderful idea, Jennie! Must read the book too! Can’t wait to see your Wishing Tree…. ✨ Sharing and wishing everyone a beautiful weekend and a heart filled with hope! xoxoxo

  20. That is wonderful, Jennie. I have never heard of a Wishing Tree; what a fabulous, uplifting, idea! Maybe adults need them as much as children…

  21. petespringerauthor says:

    Brilliant idea, Jennie! I agree that Wishtree is award-winning material.

    • Jennie says:

      I can’t wait for the day that you get to read this book aloud at your library. I’ll be reading it to my library group in September. I do hope our wish tree at school is a winner for the children.

  22. I’ve never seen a wish tree. Your post makes me think that perhaps I should seek one out!

    • Jennie says:

      I hope you come across a wish tree one day. It’s a moving experience. The book is outstanding, written by the same author of the award winning book, “The One and Only Ivan.”

  23. Wonderful Jennie… May all our wishes come true… The children especially need magic in their lives right now… My wish is for the Freedom to BE… and may every child run free, breathing fresh air feeling they are nurtured and loved and feeling safe and full of joy.. ❤ ❤ ❤

  24. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, this is wonderful and needed! Thank you!

  25. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Please read this wonderful post from Jennie, the excellent teacher!

  26. A wonderful post Jennie and I loved the shell tree.. it is a little bit like finding a cairn at the top of a mountain.. the view is spectacular despite a sometimes difficult climb but the knowledge that others have made the journey before you and left a stone is very special. Thanks for sharing and the book…hugsxx

  27. Raj SJ says:

    Great idea!
    Such a beautiful post💯

  28. A. L. Kaplan says:

    Reblogged this on alkaplan and commented:
    Another great post from Jennie.

  29. Norah says:

    This book sounds wonderful, Jennie. I’m adding it to my list. Your wish tree with the children sounds like a great project too. I look forward to hearing more about it. Have you shared the story of coming across this wish tree on your walk before? It sounds familiar.

  30. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, phew, I’m glad you were there to stop your friends from taking a shell down and instead of adding to the wishing tree. I get goosebumps reading your post, it touches me so and I think the children will treasure the one at school. The book sounds amazing and although I do not tend to read many YA books this sounds a must! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Jennie says:

      My copy of the book is now in hot demand with teachers at school. Honestly, it is so well written that adults are glued. I certainly was. The whole wish tree idea gives me goosebumps, too. And to think they have been around for a long time. Thank goodness I stopped my friends from taking any shells, and told them about wish trees. Thank you for your kind words, Annika!

  31. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday 22nd March 2021 – #Interview Robbie Cheadle and Ritu Bhathal, #Peeves Leon Stevens, #Wishes Jennie Fitzkee | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  32. Carla says:

    I had not heard of a Wish Tree, but it sounds wonderful. I have not read Katherine Applegate’s book either, but I am going to see if my library has it, it sounds wonderful.

  33. It sounds like a wonderful book and a grand idea to plant a wishing tree. We should all hope that our wishes come true. I think about planting one myself.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marlene. Interestingly, wish trees are usually old trees. Perhaps all they have seen and heard over centuries make them wise, and worthy of being the recipient of people’s wishes. Usually people write wishes on fabric and tie them to the old tree. Sometimes people use paper. I think many prayers are said when people tie their wishes to the tree. In the book, the tree is named Red. He tells the story. I think your idea of planting a tree so people can tie wishes is lovely!

  34. Oh, I love this post, Jennie. It’s time for a wishtree in the Dragonwood. Tornado boy, his mom, and Grammy and Grampy will add our first wishes in April. Hugs and Thank you!

  35. dgkaye says:

    I loved this Jennie. I think everyone needs a wish tree ❤

  36. I have never heard of this – but how very cool. Thank you for sharing.

  37. The book Wishtree arrived yesterday and I sat down to read it this afternoon. OHMYGOSH!! I couldn’t put it down!

    I finished it in a couple of hours. I laughed. I cried. I whooped in celebration!! It’s wonderful and I can’t wait to share it with #1 and Littlest Grandsons. I think littlest will love the images.

    Thank you for sharing this book. I love it!!

  38. P.S. I even recommend it to Big Baby Boy who I think shared a wish with a tree when he was a boy. I think this book will resonate with him too. 😄 🥰

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