by Noble Wong
Inside Cover: An old man returned to an abandoned village in Hong Kong where he lived when he was a child. Having moved to the city for many years, he missed every moment that he spent with his childhood friend in the village, especially the wish they made under the Wishing Tree. This story aims at arousing awareness of environmental protection and cultural preservation.
First Sentence: Haven’t seen you for a long time now.
Synopsis: An elderly gentleman looks fondly at an old picture of himself and his childhood best-friend. They have not seen each other since his family moved from the village where they grew up. The old man’s memories take over and he recalls running and playing with his friend, but mostly he remembers a tree they could see clearly from the rooftop. The Wishing Tree was special to the village people. The adults explained,
“If you want your wish to come true,write it down on a piece of red paper, tie it to a small bell and throw it up to the Tree.”
The two kids tried throwing every wish they could think of. Their small size and short throws mostly missed the limbs of the tree. Still, the kids loved being outside together, laying on the plush green grass, looking up at the beautiful fluffy white clouds. Then one day, the boy’s parents told him they were moving away from the village. He did not want to go; he knew he would miss his dear friend. Together they made a wish and tossed it up to the Wishing Tree. It stuck! The red paper and small bell wish hung on a lower limb, singing gently, and waiting to blossom like the fragrant flowers on the tree (a cherry blossom tree?).
The Wishing Tree is a beautiful book. The colors, even the bright colors, look soft and perfect. Each page looks like it could hang in a museum. If there were room, I’d show you all of them. Alas, a few will need to do. I do not know what else to say about the illustrations. They do not compliment the story . . . they are the story. I love the idea of a wishing tree. The Tree—the author capitalized the word as if it were a character—held the wishes of the entire village. I am guessing its owner must toss the wish since no one helped the two friends when they could not throw high enough to make their wishes stick. That makes sense to me. Wishes are personal and need nurtured by its owner to come true.
I enjoyed The Wishing Tree for its beauty and its message, even if the message needed an explanation (in an author note after the story). I love the idea of wishes and the hope they bring. I agree that urban development—more so in Hong Kong—often forgets the people who will live in its buildings. The author is concerned “a focus on economic development and pursuit of material comforts (will result), in ambience being destroyed and cultural heritage being erased.” This is the gist of the story. The elderly gentleman’s village is being torn down to make way for modern living, including the important Wishing Tree.
Is the message too much for kids to understand? The younger kids, yes but they can enjoy the story of lost friends and the amazing illustrations. I think middle grade kids have the ability to understand the problems and empathize with the losses of a culture and environment made by the area’s people. This is a “heavy” message for a children’s book and one that can quickly get political, but in a classroom a good discussion could easily formulate with the right middle grade or high school teacher.
I loved the story of two friends, growing up together, enjoying the simple things in their village—the soft grass, fluffy clouds, running and playing, and placing wishes on the Wishing Tree—only to be separated and making one final wish together. Decades later the elderly gentleman takes a train from his new home back to his beloved village in hopes the long-ago wish might come true. Whether or not it does I cannot say, yet the story is touching regardless of the outcome. I love the importance of friendship, of enjoying the here and now, and that everyone has hopes and wishes that a bulldozer should not be allowed to tear down.
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Released April 28, 2013
Ages: 9 to 12
© 2013 by Bighead Animation, used with permission
Text & Illustrations: Copyright © 2013 by Noble Wong