The Year Money Grew on Trees
This is that rare thing, a new children’s book with sound, solid, old fashioned values and a good story as well.
I wish there were more books like this available for kids today. It’s a terrific story about hard work, learning to understand grown-ups, self-sufficiency and team work, and more.
The narrator, a 12 year old boy, is (somewhat unrealistically) offered the chance to earn an apple orchard if he works hard enough and makes 8,000 dollars from the apples in the orchard. He gets his cousins and siblings to help him, but he doesn’t tell them how much of the money they earn he is going to have to give to the old woman who owns the orchard. They learn to work together, develop people skills, practice a bit of math, find out about apples and how to care for the trees, and they all grow up a little bit over the course of the year. It’s an excellent book for modeling a strong work ethic, self-reliance, and self-motivation.
It’s not for helicopter parents, and even a few free range parents may flinch a little at the scenes where the 12 year old protagonist learns to siphon gasoline or spray apple trees with toxic chemicals.
The main character learns to see the adults around him from a more mature, understanding perspective- one of my favorite examples of this is the relationship between the boy and his Sunday School teacher, who raises apples himself. At the beginning of the year the boy, like all the other kids in class, sees the teacher as dry and boring, and none of them ever pay attention in class. Through the course of the year the young man learns to know this elderly teacher better as he asks him for advice about his apples. Towards the end of the book he is sitting in class and wondering what the teacher is doing differently, as the he is telling the story of The Good Samaritan in more interesting fashion than he ever has before. Then the boy looks around and realizes that all the other kids in class are behaving just as they always have- ignoring the teacher, looking out the window, talking to each other. He realizes he is the one who has changed, and that he and his peers have never met the teacher halfway.
One of the things that I really loved about this scene is that the author does not come right and tell the reader this, the reader is able to discover it for himself. Like most of the ‘educational’ scenes in the book is not heavy-handed or preachy. It comes across naturally, with a subtlety that allows the reader to make the connections himself.
The religion in the book is the same, natural, not forced, not preachy. Although I can tell the author is Mormon, and so is the family in the story, this isn’t at all obvious to kids, and there is no Mormon doctrine (other than the fact that the mothers won’t let their children do anything like business transactions on Sundays, a belief which is not exclusively Mormon anyway).
The boy is not entirely honest all the time, but he regrets that and learns something from it. There were no nasty surprises, just a wholesome, interesting story with some good life lessons for those interested in learning them, and a good story for those who just want that.
It reminds me a little of The Sugar Creek Gang books, although it’s much less preachy and the religion is not so overt. I would say Money Grew on Trees is a moral book, whereas Sugar Creek Gang is an evangelical series. It’s a bit like the Ralph Moody books, but there is less fighting or swearing (no swearing at all, and what fighting there is, is verbal) in this book than in the Moody books. There’s something reminiscent of The Great Brain, too. If you like those, you will probably like this lighter tale, suitable for kids 8 to 12 to read alone, and it would make a fun family read aloud.
The only negatives for me were:
I was a little annoyed by the relationship between the parents at times- neither one seems to respect the other that much, but this is mostly at the level of the parents rolling their eyes and sighing heavily over the other parent in front of the children and behind the parent’s back, with an occasional ‘don’t tell your mother I’m letting you do this’ remark. It is far from an ideal relationship, but it is a good point for discussion with your youngsters when they read the book. The rest of the book is more than good enough to make up for this defect.
Your youngster will probably insist on trying out Shasta carbonated beverages at least once after reading this book.
The premise of the old lady promising the boy the apple orchard was a little unbelievable, but I really appreciated the way the author handled even this somewhat unbelievable scenario. The boy recognizes he’s not likely to get the orchard, that the old woman is just trying to get her adult son’s attention and blackmail him into doing what she wants him to do. The adults here are not perfect, and I appreciated the gentle way the author handled that, too- the boy matures in his understanding of human nature in a sympathetic rather than embittered fashion.
Dated 1980s references to American Pop Culture that are basically meaningless to me or my family. I personally think it would have been a better book without them, but maybe that adds nostalgic value for somebody else. Even with pop cultural references I mostly don’t get, it is a great family friendly read. I hope Hawkins will try his hand at other kids’ books with similar themes.
Does the lad get the orchard? You will have to read the book or read some other review with spoilers to find out.=)
LInked at Saturday Review of Books