Wednesday, May 23, 2007

One meatball

Got a picture book I don't like. Of course, there are plenty of picture books that don't do a thing for me. It's usually not worth my time to point them out. But One Green Apple by Eve Bunting actually cracked me up with its not-goodness.

Farah is about 10 or 11, new to this country, not yet speaking English. She feels that her headscarf sets her apart from the other kids, and she wonders whether she will ever fit in. Today, Farah's class is on a field trip to an orchard. Each child is instructed to pick one apple, and each child dutifully selects a red shiny apple. Farah picks an apple from a tree that looks the way she feels - a little stunted, a little different.

The class then runs down the hill toward a crooked wooden shack. Farah wonders who lives in the shack: a goatherd, chickens? Instead, we find a metal machine inside the shack. The teacher has each child put his or her apple in the machine. Farah is last. The teacher gives Farah's crummy little green apple a slighting look, then shrugs and has her chuck it into the machine.

The machine is turned on, and hurray! all the apples are now turned into delicious cider!

This has got to be the worst metaphor for assimilation I have seen since Marlo Thomas announced that we were all "Free to Be You and Me". Put each unique child into a big guncha-guncha machine, grind 'em to a pulp, then squeeze the pulp until a thin, palatable homogeneous mixture is obtained! Give us your tired, your poor!

Eve Bunting is a versatile writer who tackles interesting, diverse subjects and has an unerring eye for illustrators: Pop's Bridge and Smoky Night are terrific books (Hell, Smoky Night won the Caldecott!). My Special Day at Third Street School is a great gift for your favorite reading teacher. But One Green Apple is, as we say, not so good.


  1. So glad to see another librarian who thinks like me! Your post reminds me of my reaction to The Rainbow Fish. Let's just teach all of our kids to "give up what makes you special to fit in and make friends"... Riiiiiight!

  2. Does anyone beside me think that Eve Bunting is an ambulance chaser? ooh, a book about homelessness, ooh a book about headscarves, ooh a book about racism. i've never thought that her books rose above pedestrian capitalization on the tragedy of the moment. other people seem to see some nobility in her "books for a good cause" but I . . . just. . . can't.

  3. anonymous, I love you. more authors need have a pin stuck in them - I nominate you to do it!

    But I did like Pop's Bridge. And she does always pick the most appropriate, excellent illustrator for each book.

  4. Two thoughts:

    1) Smoky Night won the Caldecott -- which means, children, an award for the Illustrations, ignoring the words.

    2) P Dog said, "and she does always pick the most appropriate, excellent illustrator for each book."
    sorry -- the publisher picks the illustrator. The author, especially Eve Bunting, waits in dread until she sees the final product.

    In fact, it was Eve who said," When my copies of the book come, I open a bottle of wine. If the illustrations are good -- I lift a glass and toast the illustrator. If they are not -- I drown my sorrows with the bottle of wine."


  5. 1) True, Caldecott is for illustration, but a truly BAD story can scotch a book's chances for the big C. Viz: numerous Chris Van Allsburgh titles for which the illustrations are stunning but the story is just not there.

    2) Ms. Bunting doth protest too much. Most authors with a proven track record collaborate with their editors in selecting an illustrator.

    Not always, true. But either she or the editor that she has picked really knows illustrators.