I have had the pleasure of recently reading two children’s fiction titles: Wishtree, from Newbery Medal award-winning author Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), and The Exact Location of Home from another award-winning author, Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish). Read on for my thoughts on the two middle-grade titles:
Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood wishtree” – people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.
Funny, deep, warm, and nuanced, Wishtree is Newbery Medalist and New York Times -bestselling author Katherine Applegate at her very best – writing from the heart, and from a completely unexpected point of view.
Told through the first-person narrative of an old oak tree (a wishtree) named Red, Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree is compassionate story with overarching themes about the importance of kindness and of hope. The angle of the story being told from an ancient oak tree’s perspective is truly unique: like an omnipotent being watching over a neighborhood, Red tells us stories about one particular neighborhood they have been watching over for years. As Red witnesses unwelcome and outright cruel acts taken against a young girl named Samar (and her family) who have recently moved into the neighborhood, Red decides that the time for action has come. With the help of friend Bongo, a clever crow, and the slight interference of wildlife friends close by, Red takes on a daring mission to make Samar’s wish- for that of friendship- come true.
Readers who have previously enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s titles will undoubtedly enjoy this story; a story, at its core, about kindness, inclusion, and friendship. While I do think the story might have benefited from a longer finale and conclusion (certain facets to the story seemed a little rushed and/or solved too quickly!), it is nonetheless a moving tale. A beautiful, affecting story that reads almost like a parable, Applegate has another solid middle grade title here with Wishtree.
Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people – especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo – a garage sale GPS unit – for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.
An important story of love and hope that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.
Kate Messner, picture book writer and middle grade author of The Seventh Wish and All the Answers, returns to contemporary, realistic issues in The Exact Location of Home. Readers are taken into the changing and suddenly complicated world of protagonist and narrator Zig. As we soon learn, Zig lives with mom; his dad, Zig Senior, and mom are divorced, though Zig looks forward to his (increasingly sporadic) visits with his larger-than-life dad almost more than anything. After he learns from his mom that Zig Senior is not making his next planned visit and his mom remains tight-lipped about the reasons for the cancellations, Zig decides to investigate a little bit. While investigating, Zig and his two closest friends become ensconced in daring geocaching missions around his neighborhood- where Zig becomes utterly convinced his dad is leaving secret clues for him to track him down. Messner carefully balances plotlines that include serious financial strain, homelessness, parental lies, and possible romance. It’s a heavy load of subject matters, but Messner approaches all- especially that of sudden homelessness, fear, and shame (not often covered in middle grade)- with careful consideration and eloquence.
As with Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree, discussed above, Messner’s The Exact Location of Home touches upon realistic, seriously affecting issues that resonate and provide much for contemplation. Readers who are searching for a meaningful, contemporary title- with a tangible, complex young protagonist- might especially appreciate The Exact Location of Home.
(*It appears that The Exact Location of Home was first published solely in e-book format in 2014; reissued this past September 2017 in print format.)
I received copies of both of these titles courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own.