Summer Kids' Book Club: 'The Secret Tree' and the Mystery of Friendship

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"The Secret Tree" by Natalie Standiford (ages 9-12).

Do you have a secret?

Can you keep a secret?

Those two questions are important at any time in life but perhaps no time more than when you're a kid. And sharing secrets is a way to find out who your true friends are.

The narrator of this novel, by Baltimore native Natalie Standiford, is 10-year-old Minty, whose house backs to woods. It's the summer between fifth and sixth grade, which means lots of big changes for Minty.

When Minty sees a flash of light and chases a strange boy into the woods, she meets Raymond and discovers the "Secret Tree," where kids have been hiding their secrets in one of its knots. Raymond has a terrible secret, but he's not alone. Among the secrets that Raymond and Minty find in the tree:

"I'm betraying my best friend in a terrible way."

"No one loves me except my goldfish."

"I put a curse on my enemy. And it's working."

The two of them set off to try to figure out which neighborhood kids are keeping which secrets. There are elements of mystery in this novel. Beyond figuring out who is behind the secrets and trying to stop a curse, the kids must figure out if there really is a 7-foot man-bat in the woods.

It might seem strange to say this because you might not live in a neighborhood with woods -- and even if you do, you probably don't have a secret tree (or a man-bat, for that matter) -- but this book might remind you a lot of your summer. Hanging with friends in the neighborhood. Being bugged by their pesky little sisters. Wondering if your BFF will really be your best friend forever. Trying to understand why secrets are so hard to keep.

So think of this book as being the story of your summer -- with a little magic mixed in.

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