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30 July 2007 EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL OUT OF A TREE by Lauren Tarshis, Dial, March 2007, ISBN: 978-0-8037-3164-6


"It had been nearly two and a half years since Emma-Jean had climbed, but the motions came right back to her, as if they had been programmed into her limbs. She shimmied up the skinny trunk like her father had taught her, keeping her knees tight together. She grabbed the lowest branch, hoisting herself up in the manner of a gymnast mounting the uneven parallel bars. At several junctures, the branches formed sturdy V-shaped joints, providing footholds for Emma-Jean's white Keds. She was mindful not to disturb the tiny buds that were forming, and kept her feet clear of the most delicate branches."


"Hey, ho, makes you feel so fine

Looking out across the orchard in the bright sunshine.

Hey, ho, you feel so free

Standing in the top of an apple tree."

--Larry Hanks, "Apple Picker's Reel"


When I finish writing this piece, I will get to dive into a very special dessert. Shari spent the afternoon baking a pair of Gravenstein apple pies from our very first crop of apples, grown in a corner of our little Sebastopol, California farm.


It really tickled me when, twenty years ago, I was paging through RISE UP SINGING, searching out new songs to share at circletime, and found the Apple Picker's Reel which was accompanied by Larry Hanks' commentary about having written it while he was, himself, picking apples in Sebastopol.


Back in those days, I'd recently moved from the East Coast to California (with my goats) and had discovered my farm which was, then, bordered on the north and west by neighboring Gravenstein apple trees standing shoulder to shoulder for as far as the eye could see.


This was of no small importance to me. My relationship with apple trees goes back to my early childhood in the late Fifties when I learned to climb "my" apple tree in the backyard of our family's small suburban house in Plainview, Long Island, and gaze down over my kingdom which included the swing set and the little round swimming pool.


"No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low"

-- Lennon and McCartney, "Strawberry Fields"


Tragically, those neighboring apple trees in Sebastopol were all torn out a number of years ago to make room for wine grapes. You'd better believe that it wasn't merely all the dust being stirred up by the giant tractors that was causing me to cry when the corpses of those old trees were being stacked up in pyres around the perimeter.


And, of course, being ever the contrarian, I was out there planting baby Gravensteins (with a rich dressing of aged goat manure) while everybody else in the hills was tearing them out.


Having nurtured our tiny orchard of apple trees from when they were the length of my forearm to the harvesting of this first crop, I now recognize that the apple tree that I'd climbed all those decades ago in Plainview must have been planted sometime back during the Roaring Twenties or the years of The Great Depression for its having been so exceptionally wide and tall with its maze of sturdy limbs to traverse and its bountiful crop of tart, green apples. It will surely be decades before my adolescent trees in Sebastopol will be sufficiently strong to permit my teaching a child to climb them in the fashion that Emma-Jean Lazarus's father had taught her to climb trees.


Sadly,the love of her mother's (and her) life -- her father, the mathematician -- died in a car crash two-and-a-half years ago, and that is why Emma-Jean has not climbed a tree (either literally or figuratively) since then.


But, in a move that is uncharacteristic for this cautious observer, this foe of disorder that she has since become, seventh grader Emma-Jean Lazarus decides to go out on a limb to assist a schoolmate in distress.


"All Emma-Jean knew was this: Some irrational, emotional force had compelled her to enter the chaotic world of her peers, where the rules of logic did not apply."


The focus of Emma-Jean's assistance is her fellow seventh-grader, Colleen, a very believable character who struggles to walk the narrow line between being popular and doing the right thing.


"You're right, Emma-Jean,' Colleen whispered. 'The truth is I'm not doing well at all. I'm having some trouble, bad trouble, with some of my friends...' Colleen shook her head. 'Some people...aren't nice.'

"Emma-Jean knew this was true. People sometimes behaved unkindly toward one another, even at William Gladstone Middle School. Hurt feelings, bruised egos, broken promises, betrayed confidences -- the list of emotional injuries her fellow seventh-graders inflicted on one another was dismayingly long.

"Of course, Emma-Jean was fond of her peers. In fact, she believed that one was unlikely to find a finer group of young people than the 103 boys and 98 girls with whom she spent her school days. But their behavior was often irrational. And as a result, their lives were messy. Emma-Jean disliked disorder of any kind, and had thus made it her habit to keep herself separate, to observe from afar."


When Emma-Jean decides to risk going out on that limb, to forgo that separateness and face that which cannot be ordered logically, there will be consequences for the adolescents and adults who are affected by her climb back into the oft-messy and irrational world.


EMMA-JEAN LAZARUS FELL OUT OF A TREE is a sophisticated and captivating tale that I will be recommending most enthusiastically for use by our sixth grade English teachers in Sebastopol.


And now on to the pie.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Moderator, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

BudNotBuddy@aol.com http://www.myspace.com/richiespicks


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