“Apple Picking Time” by Michele Slawson; art by Deborah Kogan Ray
We grow eight different varieties of apples on our farm, and so this time of year is a busy one for us, and the people that help us make the picking of apples happen are part of what gets it done.
The title of this picture book coincides with the hum of activity on most apple orchards at this time of year. The Honey Crisp, Gala, Dandy Reds and Crimson Crisp are ready. All save the Granny Smiths are coming on strong.
I love the opening lines of this picture book because they are perfectly true and real:
Sometime after the summer is
spent but before the jack o’
lanterns are lit, it’s apple picking
time. All over the valley, up and
down the hillsides, the branches
are heavy with red apples. To-
morrow we will go to work.
Seen through the eyes of young Anna, apple picking on her family’s farm is a generational and community endeavor with apple pickers that include even the sisters from the local convent. Anna herself gets to stay home from school and help.
Ms. Slawson paints a picture of a group of early risers that meet outside town to ride to the apple orchard:
When you go apple picking, you
have to get up before the sun. The
moon is still high in the sky, and
the rooster hasn’t crowed yet. The
birds are asleep. Everything is
asleep – except Mama, Papa, and
me, and all the other apple
Young readers will meet Dave, the foreman, that hands out the coveted purple tickets to each worker. It will be punched each time a worker fills a bin and is then compensated for their hard work at the end of the day:
“Mama fastens a canvas bag around Anna that fits better and feels lighter than it did the year before (even though it’s empty).
“It’s not as heavy as last year,” I say.
“They’re no apples in it,” Mama
“But it’s not loose either.”
“No, it’s not. I don’t need to go over
as many loops. You’ve grown.”
There are lots of things Anna has to remember as she picks: Lean forward on the ladder, so both hands are free for picking and the repetitive apple picking motion required of Twist! Snap! Twist!
Working fast in the cold morning air in woolen shirts and gloves with the fingers cut out (“Mama says you have a better grip if your hands are warm”), with work set to the rhythm of music from a nearby radio, Anna and her community of workers, including Grandma and Grandpa, are busy.
Ms. Slawson has paced her picture book of picking with a relaxed lunch time, savored in the outdoors spread on an old quilt, and even some dancing:
“Mama takes Papa’s hands, and
he brings her to him, almost in a
hug but more graceful. Then he
twirls her around under the
branches. Mama can spin good
even in tennis shoes.”
The light that fills the art of Deborah Kogan Ray’s depiction of Anna’s family apple orchard and the faces working there, with a golden tone that has both a subtle and soft glow.
As the day winds to a close and the tractor chugs down the rows taking the loaded bins of apples, the questions hangs in the cool, crisp autumn air. Will Dave’s tractor come for Anna’s bin this year? Will she be able to fill the bin and the get the coveted moon shaped ticket puncher shape on her purple piece of paper?
Young readers will certainly learn quite a bit about the process of apple picking, but there is much more to learn here In “Apple Picking Time” than the harvesting of apples.
There is the spirit of community working together, family closeness and the generational sharing of wisdom, plus the ever important growth and pride of a child’s sense of accomplishment that can be measured sometimes in the simple filling of an apple bin.
Be sure to check out the inside cover that has a delicious Apple Crisp recipe, plus activities that you can use with your young reader that dovetail with Ms. Slawson’s tale of apple picking and Anna’s growth.
Here are some post-read questions that you may want to ask your young reader:
How do you know that you are getting bigger? Do your clothes fit differently? Can you reach higher places at home or at school?
What is the best thing about getting bigger? What is something that you are still waiting to be big enough to do?
Hey, I’m still waiting to learn how to drive the tractor that helps lift the filled bins!
And I’m still learning to drive a “three on the tree” 1951 red Chevy pickup.
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