September 2010

Tapping a can-do spirit

By Aaron R. Hawkins
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In The Year Money Grew on Trees, first-time children’s author Aaron R. Hawkins, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, mines his own childhood memories of working in his family’s apple orchard. The result is as warm and delicious as a slice of apple pie.

It’s only February, but Jackson Jones, who lives on a dirt road in New Mexico, is already thinking about a summer job. His father wants him to work in the local junkyard. His neighbor, Mrs. Nelson, offers an alternative: If he can prove that he is a true heir to her late husband’s 300 apple trees, she will give the orchard to him. There’s only one catch—first he has to make $8,000 from this year’s crop and pay it to Mrs. Nelson.

Without revealing the precise details of the deal to anyone, even his parents, Jackson recruits a motley crew of cousins and siblings to tackle the challenge of bringing the orchard back to life. The kids supply the hard work, day in and day out. Advice (such as it is) must come from the one book on apple growing Jackson manages to track down in the school library, along with tips from adults in the community. Little by little, Jackson and his crew find out what they need to know, from pruning to fertilizing, thinning, irrigating and picking. The text is enhanced by the author’s delightful drawings—maps of the orchard, sketches of a tree before and after pruning, and diagrams of such essentials as the irrigation system. Teachers will be pleased to see how Jackson uses math to figure out his anticipated profits and expenses in the quest to become the orchard’s new owner.

The Year Money Grew on Trees yields a harvest of riches, not only as a wonderful story of one boy’s resourcefulness but as a humorous and insightful portrait of a community. Take a bite!

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