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When one third grade class finished the novel, The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, they loved it so much they decided to give the author’s other titles a try. Enter Wishtree, an Applegate novel that students instantly took to for its message of kindness, friendship, and hope. Told from the point of view of a 216 year-old red oak tree, the novel relates how, over the decades, the tree has become known as the neighborhood “wishtree.” People write wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to the branches. As students explain, “some of the wishes are selfish, some are kind, some are funny, and some are sad.” Some don’t come true. But many do.

These third graders have created their own “wishtree” and are filling it with all kinds of wishes on leaves and pieces of cloth. As in the book, woodland animals take refuge in the hollows and branches of the tree, which seems to watch over students and remind them to be welcoming and kind. As they read about Maeve, a girl from Ireland, students learn about the immigrant experience in 19th century America. It is Maeve who establishes the tree as a “wishtree,” a tradition she brings from Ireland. Fast forward to present day and a new immigrant family moves into the neighborhood. Not everyone is welcoming and the wishtree becomes more important than ever. As students have immersed themselves in the project, they are deeply affected by the “magic” in the story and by their new understanding of who can make wishes come true.