Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Summer Is For Reading! Apple in the Middle

Apple in the Middle, Dawn Quigley's debut novel, is a Young Adult (I'd say young YA or even upper MG) coming of age story whose main character is Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, just like the author.

Publisher's Synopsis:
"Apple Starkington turned her back on her Native American heritage the moment she was called a prairie nigger-a racial slur for someone of white and Indian descendance-not that she really even knows how to be an Indian in the first place. Too bad the white world doesn't accept her either. After her wealthy father gives her the boot one summer, Apple reluctantly agrees to visit her Native American relatives on the Turtle Mountain (North Dakota) Indian Reservation for the first time. It should have been easy, except that she makes all kinds of mistakes as she deals with the culture shock of Indian customs and the Native Michif language, while trying to find a connection to her dead mother. She also has to deal with a vengeful Indian man, Karl, who has a violent, granite-sized chip on his shoulder because he loved her mother in high school but now hates Apple because her mom married a white man. As Apple meets her Indian relatives this summer, she finds that she just may have found a place to belong. One by one, each character-ranging from age five to eighty-five-teaches her, through wit and wisdom, what it means to be a Native person, but also to be a human being while finding her place in the world. Apple shatters Indian stereotypes and learns what it means to find her place in a world divided by color."
Apple in the Middle

Remember those days of junior high (dating myself here, I should say middle school, perhaps) when so many of us felt completely socially inept and were the biggest misfits ever? That's Apple, the main character. Socially awkward kids - no matter their personal race or culture - will welcome reading about someone just as awkward. 

Additionally, Apple's identity struggle is something Native kids (and adults!) will relate to. Identity issues (a result of 500 years of non-Natives telling Natives what they are or aren't, which is in conflict with what Natives really are or aren't) are a big player in Native psyches and have many ramifications, and can be magnified when the person is mixed race or biracial, as is Apple. 
Apple says, "I call it the Ping-Pong effect because you’re the ball, and nobody ever wants you in their space. Have you ever felt like that? Never really belonging anywhere, but trying your darndest to run between two lives only to find you’re always stuck in the middle.”
Yes, Apple, yes, I have felt like that. All my life.

For elementary teachers or parents, although I can't find an official guided reading level on this book, I'd put it at about a T, definitely within the grasp of 4th or 5th grade classroom libraries. You can also use it to follow or teach character development. But its highest use for you will be to read it yourself. It will help inform so many other things you do around Native people for the rest of your teaching career (keeping in mind that there are well over 500 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. and many state-recognized tribes also, and that this is a story from one of those tribes). You will gain insight into some common Native issues as well as learn about the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe through informative sections sprinkled throughout the book. 

As Jean Mendoza points out in her review of Apple in the Middle on American Indians in Children's Literature, there are also several other recent #OwnVoices books that you should read with that same goal of informing your teaching, such as Cynthia Leitich Smith's Hearts Unbroken and the graphic novel series, Pemmican Wars, by Katherena Vermette

For middle school or high school teachers or parents, I'd echo the same highest use and further reading, and additionally challenge you to include your learning from this book in your American History and other related Social Studies Essential Standards. I would go into detail, but just now, reading over my state's NC Essential Standards, I am so disgusted at how we are left out that I can't bring myself to list the million ways you could infuse courses with accurate content about Native people. Disclaimer: I'm Native (Sappony), in case you didn't know. But why should that matter or change anything I just said?

We need so many more books like Apple in the Middle. I look forward to Dawn Quigley's next books!


  1. Important idea -- that the highest use for some books is to read them yourself, and let them inform you as an educator or parent (or just as a person in the world). That one's going to sit with me for a while today! So often teachers ask, "How can I use this in my classroom?", forgetting that their own knowledge base and continued learning are what enable them to teach well (or not), and to think beyond whatever governments or administrations expect/want children to know. "Standards" could have been expansive and enlightened but instead they are so often just another way of constraining awareness.

    1. Thanks, Jean! I actually got that idea from you and Debbie! I listened to your podcast on Kidlit These Days and one of you mentioned using your book, An Indigenous People's History of The United States for Young People, in just that way. I loved that idea that in addition to perhaps being used for a specific teaching point, many books contribute largely to a teacher's background info, which then informs everything they do in the classroom. So I borrowed that idea for Dawn's Apple in the Middle because it is a perfect example of that! (and thank you and Debbie for the idea :)


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