Inclusive book joins all ages in Naperville reading program
An oak tree and a crow are two of the main characters in the book chosen for this year's Naperville READS program, but no one is writing off "Wishtree" as a fluffy children's tale of little substance.
Instead, educators are getting students up to the high school level involved in reading the story by author Katherine Applegate and internalizing its meaning.
Applegate, in a letter to readers included with the book, explains she wrote "Wishtree" in rebuttal to the divisive discourse of the 2016 presidential election. Feeling "stunned by the vitriol and intolerance," the author of "The One and Only Ivan" and the "Animorphs" series felt she had to do something. And what writers do is write.
So she penned "Wishtree," as "a reminder that we are and always have been a nation of welcoming hearts and open minds," Applegate's letter says. She kept the book "small, gentle, accessible, fable-like" so children could grasp it, but she anticipated the Naperville community's inclusion of elders as well, reminding her readers that "stories don't have age limits."
The book became the choice for this year's Naperville READS program, which aims to open new worlds and expose new ideas to participants through a shared reading experience. Anderson's Bookshop puts on the program in conjunction with Jumping Off the Page, Naperville Public Library, North Central College, Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
Leaders at Anderson's say they're thrilled "Wishtree" is involving not just the youngest children, but also teens in activities showcasing diverse people and perspectives.
"It's really a perfect book for parents, teens and younger children to read and discuss," said Candace Purdom, who works in publicity and events for the bookshop. "It confronts prejudice and tackles acceptance and inclusion, and has the theme of making people feel safe and welcome in their own community."
In "Wishtree," a Muslim family moves into a neighborhood near where Red stands as an oak tree where residents attach their wishes. Not everyone is welcoming to the new family, making Red the wishtree more important.
The plot makes "Wishtree" a perfect fit for a new program started this year by the librarians at Metea, Neuqua and Waubonsie Valley high schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, said Carrie Ory, director of the library media center at Neuqua's Kathryn Birkett Freshman Center.
Called "We Are 204," the program involves a dozen books students are encouraged to read. The titles, starting with "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, are intended to widen student perspectives and appreciation of diversity.
"Each year, we will promote new titles to encourage our students to embrace our differences," Ory said. "Even though this book ("Wishtree") was written for younger students, it carries the same message our program is promoting."
Younger students, fourth-graders from district 203 and 204 and some nearby private schools, will get to meet Applegate during a special event when she visits Jan. 29.
Donna Kourie, library media center director at Longwood Elementary in District 204, said fourth-graders from her school are attending to celebrate what she describes as "a beautiful story that has an important message about kindness and hope."
The public can get in on the promotion of acceptance, too, by attending a free community presentation by Applegate at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 at Naperville Central High School, 440 W. Aurora Ave. Tickets are available at NapervilleReads.brownpapertickets.com.
"There is a power in reading together and celebrating literacy as a community," Kourie said. "This is another excellent opportunity for students to celebrate great literature and an author who writes stories that envelop our hearts."