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From The Asian Reporter, V19, #3 (January 20, 2009), page 17.
A whole new perspective
The Wishing Tree
By Roseanne Thong
Illustrations by Connie McLennan
Shenís Books, 2004
Hardcover, 32 pages, $16.95
By Josephine Bridges
An enormous banyan tree with thick, leafy branches grew in the center of a village near an ancient temple in a green valley with a gurgling stream." The Wishing Tree begins with these words and a depiction of the idyllic locale: The leafy landscape is almost a birdís-eye view, except that the bird, a swallow, is also a part of the picture. Itís a lovely beginning, and the book just keeps getting better.
When Ming is five years old, Grandmother takes him to the tree to make his first wish. It is the Lunar New Year, and the tree is full of wishes written on brightly colored paper and weighted with mandarin oranges. Ming writes his first wish and has to throw it into the tree six times before it catches hold. But sure enough, his wish to be big and strong comes true when "by the following year he had grown a foot taller and was strong enough to help move the heavy chairs in his parentsí restaurant."
Mingís varied wishes over the next few years have a way of coming true, that is, until Grandmother becomes ill. It is the rest of the narrative, and the accompanying illustrations, that make The Wishing Tree an extraordinary book. Ming and a schoolmate are depicted on a bench beneath the branches of the old banyan tree, and sure enough, if you look carefully, thereís a sparrow perched among the wishes. In their conversation, Mingís friend Hong asks Ming what Grandmother wished for the last time she visited the tree. Itís a question that begins to give Ming a whole new perspective.
In an authorís note, Roseanne Thong tells us that her story "is based on a local legend about a real tree in the village of Lam Tsuen in Hong Kong." While people visit the Wishing Tree all year long, "It is especially crowded during Lunar New Year."
Should you want to join the crowd, instructions for making your own wishing scroll ó Ng Bo Dip, or "Five Treasures Pile" in Cantonese ó are also included, as well as a lovely pattern for readers to photocopy and embellish with wishes. My wish is that a lot of people start the Lunar New Year off by reading The Wishing Tree and learning from Mingís example of a whole new perspective on wishing.