The story gets its name from the events on a field trip to a farm where the class picks apples and makes cider. Every child picks a plump red apple, except for Farah.
Farah, from an unnamed Arab state, is on her second day in school in a new country. She doesn’t speak English and she doesn’t look like the Caucasian children who are her new classmates. She is the only one to wear a hijab, referred to here as a dupatta. Farah’s narration is in English, of course, which works because of her sensitive observations of her surroundings and her feelings. You’re immediately drawn into her perspective of alienation and loneliness and are willing to suspend your disbelief.
The story gets its name from the events on a field trip to a farm where the class picks apples and makes cider. Every child picks a plump red apple except for Farah. She is drawn to a tree standing on its own bearing green apples, and she twists off a little green one that fits neatly in her cupped hand. The metaphor is obvious. Standing outside the story and looking at the symbolism is where discomfort arises. Farah drops her apple into the cider press and later thinks I will blend in with the others the way my apple blended with the cider. The story is about being an outsider and becoming acclimated. But in equating becoming acclimated with becoming assimilated, the story displays cultural insensitivity.
The illustration for the scene where Farah drops her apple into the press shows her standing apart from the three classmates in the picture. Their looks depict emotions ranging from concern to dismay, and one boy’s hand is outstretched as a claw, intending to grab Farah’s green apple. The text reads: One by one we plop our apples into the machine. I will be the last to drop my small green one. My teacher seems about to speak. Then she shrugs and smiles. A boy shouts, “Hey!” He moves toward me, as if to stop me from putting in my little green apple. But he is too late. It is already gone. I can imagine a very lively discussion among third and fourth graders about this page in particular. “What might that boy be thinking?” “How do you understand the expression on the teacher’s face?” And about the story as a whole: “What sense do you make about Farah’s desire to blend in?”
Ted Lewin’s beautiful watercolors imbue the scenes with warmth, both the sun dappled features of the farm and the side-lit facial expressions of the children as they start to connect. The final illustration is a close-up of Farah, radiant in her Middle Eastern beauty. She exudes resilience and self-possession, and by this time we know her well enough to know that she is not a child on whom someone else’s idea of how she should blend in can be imposed.