"Starring" Tara! The Apple Orchard Riddle by Margaret McNamara
"SHOW ME A LITTLE RED HOUSE WITH NO WINDOWS AND NO DOOR, BUT WITH A STAR INSIDE."
Ace primary-grade teacher Mr. Tiffin is off on the big yellow bus with his class for a field trip to the apple orchard. Most of the kids are really psyched about the trip, but to add a little sauce to the apple tour, Mr. Tiffin provides a little brain teaser to keep them on task. Only Tara seems to be unfocused as they board the bus.
"HURRY UP, TARA! YOU'LL MISS THE BUS!" Robert scolds.
TARA TOOK A SET BY HERSELF NEXT TO THE WINDOW. SHE LIKED TO LOOK OUTSIDE AND WONDER ABOUT THINGS.
"TARA'S IN DREAMLAND AGAIN," tattles Anna.
"THE LIGHTS ARE ON BUT NOBODY'S HOME," snarks Elinor.
The class is met by Farmer Hills, who is just full of apple lore to share with the kids, and Mr. Tiffin reminds the kids that they need to be thinking about his riddle while they listen to their guide.
"I'M NOT TOO GOOD AT TESTS," says Tara softly. "IT TAKES ME A LITTLE MORE TIME TO DO THINGS."
Mr. Tiffin has noticed that. He smiles at Tara and urges his charges along as Farmer Hill holds forth on the properties of different varieties of apples, their colors and textures, how each variety is picked, and at last how the chosen apples are pressed to make cider. The kids get to pick an apple for themselves, and Farmer Hill proudly presents each student with a cup of his just-pressed cider and a doughnut.
"TARA'S NOT EATING HERS!" Jake reports.
Tara seems to taking her apple apart, seed by seed, but Mr. Tiffin forges on, reviewing the class on what they've learned, and Elinor expertly reels off the the names of the apples they've seen--Crispin, Fuji, Gala, Red and Golden Delicious, and Macoun!"
Academic objectives covered, Mr. Tiffin returns to his teaser:
"HOW ABOUT THE RIDDLE?" HE ASKS.
Jake and Robert, Molly and Charlotte, even star student Elinor are stumped.
But by this time, it's no surprise who has been "looking at things" and thinking outside the box all this time, in Margaret McNamara's just-in-time-for-the-field-trip story, The Apple Orchard Riddle (Schwartz & Wade, 2013). Like its companion book, How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? (see my review here), McNamara's insightful portrayal of classroom dynamics skillfully embedded in a core curriculum concept book, backed up by G. Brian Karas' funny and telling illustrations of kids busy being kids, make her newest the perfect introduction or review book for those fall units on the autumn season. McNamara and Karas even add endpapers which show labelled illustrations of the various apples and include endnotes with additional apple lore.
There are lots of apple orchard and pumpkin patch books out there, many of them absolutely delightful, and these two belong in the top of the pile on the harvest wagon. "A sweet, slice-of-school-life story," puns Kirkus Reviews.