cover image Sweet Dried Apples CL

Sweet Dried Apples CL

Rosemary Breckler. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15.95 (28pp) ISBN 978-0-395-73570-1

The title of Breckler's (Hoang Breaks the Lucky Teapot) poignant, plaintive tale refers to the fruit that the narrator's grandfather, an herb doctor in their Vietnamese village, uses to flavor his bitter remedies. The kindly patriarch looks after the narrator, her younger brother and mother after her father goes off to fight in the war. For a long time they hear rumbling and crackling in the distance, until one night the war finally reaches their village, seemingly consuming it in flames. In the morning the residents face a frightening, apocalyptic scene, as they crawl out into a ""black world"" in which no birds sing, the bamboo trees have disappeared and the rice fields are ashes. ""We all wept,"" says the despondent girl. Her ailing grandfather helps the ill villagers but saves no medicine for himself; he ""fell asleep forever."" As the remaining members of her family surreptitiously depart their devastated village and leave Vietnam by boat, the girl vows ""Someday... I will find a way back."" Like the combination of her grandfather's herbs and apples, the ending is bittersweet; and the story is far more sad than hopeful. Ray's (My Prairie Year) haunting art dramatically yet convincingly interprets the climactic changes such tragic conflict brings. Sensitively dealing with a setting and subject few picture books touch, this is a worthy addition to any public or school library. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)