The Floyd County (Va.) Public Schools have suspended a One Division, One Book community reading of Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree following complaints that the middle-grade novel depicts a monoecious red oak, a tree with reproductive parts that can pollinate and flower simultaneously. In the book, originally published in 2017, the tree claims an identity that is “both” female and male and responds to diverse pronouns: “Call me she. Call me he. Anything will work.” (Trees have four primary systems of reproduction.)

The school’s reading program kicked off on March 4 and was already underway when parent Jodi Farmer, whose children attend a private Christian academy in neighboring Carroll County, took to Facebook to inform Floyd County residents about the reference to gender. Farmer challenged Wishtree's nonbinary account of the oak's identity, calling the book "indoctrination at its finest."

In a March 11 email sent to families from FCPS, unspecified officials wrote, “We understand and respect the concerns raised by members of the community regarding certain material within the selected book,” and “After careful consideration, we decided to suspend the One Division, One Book reading event. Families are welcome to continue reading the book on their own, but schools will not be hosting any corresponding activities.”

Reached by phone, school board vice-chairperson Laura Leroy said PW should contact FCPS for more information about One Division, One Book and the Wishtree decision. School board chair James Ingram, superintendent Jessica Cromer, and secondary literacy educator Kristen Harrod did not respond to phone messages or email requests for comment. Floyd County, southwest of Roanoke, serves children at four pre-K–7 elementary schools and one high school with grades 8–12.

Applegate, who was not scheduled to participate in events related to One Division, One Book, learned secondhand about the literacy program's suspension. “I found out via Dan Casey’s article in the Roanoke Times,” Applegate told PW after tweeting her thoughts on X. “My first reaction was laughter, because it seemed like satire—it could be a story in the Onion,” the humor site. “But of course there is nothing funny about the real motivation, which is bigotry against LGBTQ people.”

“The irony is that Wishtree is about community and kindness and tolerance,” Applegate added. She said she wrote Wishtree in response to the “othering of whole communities” of immigrants and people of color in the mid-2010s. In the novel, townspeople in an unnamed U.S. neighborhood write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to the branches of Red, an oak tree two centuries old.

Red also observes local dramas, including the bullying of a Muslim girl whose family has moved to the town—a conflict the tree helps resolve. “In the documentary The ABCs of Book Banning, you see a sweet Muslim girl reading a passage from Wishtree,” Applegate noted, adding that the book’s religious and cultural diversity “has been a point of contention. It has been challenged in other places,” but “embraced” too, in similar community one-book readings. On March 2, Applegate read from and signed Wishtree as part of the Kennedy Center’s environmentally focused Reach to Forest event.

Applegate expressed disappointment that One Division, One Book and Wishtree were dismissed with “no explanations, nothing concrete” from FCPS, and she noted “the fear school boards face” when book challenges put them on the defensive. “We have to keep making noise again and again, and the litigation in Texas is a really good step” toward combating book bans, she said. On that note, FCPS’s “next school board meeting is April 8—maybe I’ll stop by and say hi.”