I finished Wishtree by Katherine Applegate this evening. I waited until the trick or treaters had retreated to their own homes to sort their bounty. I sat down in the living room to read the last forty pages. Every few pages, I took out my phone to capture lines that I loved. I’ve only shared one, because it made me get up off of my couch and head for the front door, and out into my front yard to look up at the sky, freckled with stars.
When I was at Teacher’s College two weeks ago, Lucy Calkins quoted John Gardner. She mentioned his famous observation that all fiction seems to boil down to two types of stories: stories where a stranger comes to town, and stories about finding your way home. I’ve always loved the simplicity of this idea. Lucy was saying that essays often combine those two ideas. You start out with an idea, it may be new to you at the start, a stranger. You set out on a journey of thought, and if you’re lucky, you find your way home. Katherine Applegate certainly writes those kinds of stories, but she’s managed to also tweak the idea a little. This story features a stranger, new to a town and not welcome. It also features a home, soon to be destroyed. I’ve read several of her books in the past year, and I’m so grateful that her hope is for us not just to find our own way home, but to find a way to both preserve our home and enlarge our home.
Like the tree and the kids at the heart of this story, Katherine Applegate is an optimist. As I think about how my world changed last November, how this country suddenly seemed so much less hospitable and welcoming, I feel like I need as many optimists in my life as possible. I want this country to stay a welcoming place, where strangers can come to town and find a home.