American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2016       REVIEW

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The Heart of Applebutter Hill

by Donna W. Hill
Reviewed by Jacqueline Williams

From the Editor: Jacqueline Williams has taught in New York, in Uganda, and on the San Carlos Indian Reservation in Arizona. After she earned a master's degree in special education from Northern Arizona University, she served as a special education teacher and administrator in Mesa, Arizona. Now retired, she writes poetry and serves as dance coordinator in the Mesa public schools.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill
by Donna W. Hill
Smashwords Press, 2013, 346 pages
ISBN: 9781483948225
Available in print and as a Kindle ebook, and from Bookshare and Learning Ally.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill is a story of suspense and a passage through adolescent growth. Coping with vision loss and bullying are combined with adventure and fantasy, demonstrating Donna Hill's vivid imagination. This novel will inspire teachers and readers who want to be part of the solution to bullying and other actions that harm the disadvantaged.

The cover of The Heart of Applebutter Hill, showing a hand holding a blue heart, a cave with stalactites in the background. The book leans against a flowerpot with a beautiful amaryllis.The book traces the difficulties of Abigail, a fourteen-year-old blind girl; her sighted companion, Baggy; and her guide dog through a challenging high school experience. Abigail uses her talents as a songwriter, a teacher of kindergarten students, a searcher for answers to a mystery, and a good friend to those who are ready to accept her.

Abigail and her best friend, Baggy, are refugees from the Isle of Adiaphora. With Abigail's guide dog, Curly Connor (a.k.a. the Fluffer-Noodle), Abigail and Baggy confront new and exciting puzzles. They travel on the Cloud Scooper over familiar places and amazing landscapes, mooring at castles, mystic forests, and fields of talking flowers.

Donna Hill's depiction of blindness is beautiful and true. She conveys the reality that gradual vision loss is a fluid, ever-changing condition, running a gauntlet that few can imagine until it happens to them:

She was also living on the fringes of two worlds. She wasn't totally blind, and there was no way of knowing if or when she ever would be. Nevertheless, she couldn't see normally. Her sight had become a wild animal--beautiful and dangerous. It was an unpredictable, ever-changing display of shadows and blurry glimpses, tunnels and glaring light. The only things she could say for sure were that she couldn't see at night and that her peripheral vision was . . . well, gone.

The Heart of Applebutter Hill includes terrific examples of excellent teaching through poetry and other writing. In the chapter entitled "Writer's Round Table," the stern teacher gives out a list of forbidden four-letter words. Writers know these words as pitfalls, and the author does not miss many opportunities to teach the craft of writing:

When he reached Abigail, Thornhammer pressed a stiff card into her hand. She fumbled with it and, after getting the Braille right-side up, read, “Professor Thornhammer's Banned Four-Letter Words.” Her heart raced in anticipation of the words he might have included, but the list was a simple one: like, sure, very, fine, and just.

This scene involves Abigail and fellow classmate Tommy, who uses accessible books due to a physical disability. The scene takes place in the Adaptive Education Resource Room at the Plumkettle Learning Center and gives futuristic ideas of ways children may be able to program technology.

The resource room was a large classroom that had been “modified.” Doors on the north wall led to Miss Kiffle's office and a private study. Long tables with computers, closed circuit TV's, Braillers, and embossers lined the other walls. A U-shaped cluster of sofas occupied the center of the room. On the table to the right of the doorway sat an electronic globe; every Plumkettle classroom had one, and they doubled as the school's intercom.

As he opened his mouth to ask yet another question, a series of chimes rang out from the globe. Thinking it was the announcement to head to the auditorium, everyone turned toward it. The classroom lights dimmed, and those who could see witnessed the continents being sucked--with appropriate sound effects--into the oceans.

“Florida and Italy are flopping around like fish,” said Tommy, giggling his way through an explanation of the visuals for Abby's benefit. . . .

Miss Kiffle, with her face scrunched up to restrict her laughter, bustled over to the globe and punched in the code to reset it.

I highly recommend this book to middle-school students, teachers, media center directors, and teachers in special reading programs. The book cries out for a list of characters and a glossary of terms and place names. Designing such a glossary could be a great semester project.

Donna Hill has spent much of her life working with blind people, especially young people, trying to help them live fulfilling lives. This book is her effort, through fiction, to convey the heart of the matter and to create expectations that are as high for the blind as they are for the general population. She is saving proceeds from the sale of print and electronic versions of The Heart of Applebutter Hill to create a hard copy Braille version.

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