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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

One Green Apple


One Green Apple
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Ted Lewin

Starting with the gentle themes as in Hurry Hurry, Flower Garden, through knotty feelings that make growing up difficult as in Little Bear's Little Boat, all the way up to complex layers of emotions addressed in books like Terrible Things (An Allegory of Holocaust), Train To Somewhere, Eve Bunting has become a much-admired and respected author in our house.

One Green Apple is about little girl Farah, uprooted from her country by circumstances beyond her control and re-planted in a new country, gingerly taking her first step in her path to confident integration as an immigrant.

The story narrates a short episode in Farah's life: her second day in the new school, going on a field trip to a local apple orchard with her class. Her apprehensions about seating during the ride (boys didn't sit next to girls in her country), or the dupatta she wears over her head as is the custom in her country/culture seem very real and understandable.

Some are friendly. But some look at me coldly and smile cruel smiles. I hear my country mentioned, not fondly.

However, Anna, who is sitting next to Farah during the ride, uses the universal ice-breaker: a smile and her own name by way of introduction. Pointing to herself in response, "Farah" she declares with a beautiful smile.

The teacher proceeds to instruct the children to pick one and only one apple to be taken into the shed for slicing, juicing and sharing, taking extra care to use exaggerated expression for Farah's sake.

Ms.Bunting conveys Farah's discomfort at this via her private thoughts, "I understand. It's not that I am stupid. It is just that I am lost in this new place"

While the other kids are busy picking out the reddest sweetest apple, Farah chooses one green apple from a lonely short tree.

When they all toss in their apples into the machine in the shed, the teacher is surprised at Farah's choice of one green apple, but lets it go. Farah lends a hand as the children work together to extract the juice from the machine.

I think I taste my special apple, Farah says to herself as she sips the fresh cider.

While some things are unfamiliar, Farah notes that the crunching noise of the dogs eating the fallen apples, the tickle of hay with its smell of dry sunshine, the loud belch that instigates laughter are the same as at home. Laughs, sneezes, belches and lots of things.

It is the words that sound strange. But soon I will know their words. I will blend with the others the way my green apple blended with the cider.

Ted Lewin's illustrations drench each page with the light and warmth of the sun, projecting hope and cheer. The penultimate page zooming in on Farah's face which sports a genuine smile hinting at self-assurance is priceless.

Neither preachy nor heart-wrenching, the narration flows gently revealing what it might feel like to be a Muslim immigrant attending school in the U.S.

The obvious questions Ana asked were, "Why did her family have to move?", "Why couldn't she learn English in her country?". While immigration is not easy for a five-year-old to understand, fortunately I did have a point of reference to talk about it: Ana has expressed interest in going to France, living there, and learning ballet. (Possibly triggered by some of the non-fiction book we read on ballet recently). When I reminded her that her ballet teacher will be speaking in French and so will most of her friends and she will need to learn the new language, Farah's predicament started making sense. The feeling of displacement and the comfort in feeling welcome in a new place were emotions she could relate to.

[Cross-posted at Saffron Tree]

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