Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year

Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year

Nan Forler
Illustrator:  Peter Etril Snyder 
Poetry Picture Book
For ages 7 to 11
Tundra Books, 2011   ISBN: 978-1770492547

Naomi is a child who is being raised in an Old Order Mennonite community. Her life is a lot simpler than yours or mine. She does not have access to a television or computer, a cell phone or a car. She lives on a farm with her family, connected to the rhythms of the seasons, and working alongside her family members. This is the story, in poetry form, of one year of her life, and there is one poem for each of the twelve months.

It is cold and snowy outside on a January day when Naomi attends her first proper quilting bee. She works side by side with the women, listening to the talk and laughter “while hungry needles scoop up fabric” as the little even stitches make their way across the quilt top. One day the quilt they are working on will keep someone warm on a cold winter night, just like the one that lies on Naomi’s bed at home.

In May, Naomi takes a huge risk. While the boys are busy elsewhere, Naomi decides to try riding one of their bikes. The rule is “Boys on bikes, girls on foot,” but Naomi wants to know what it feels like to ride a bicycle. Even though she knows her mother would be appalled to know that Naomi tried to do such an unseemly thing, the girl mounts the bicycle anyway, and for a moment or two she revels in the joy riding a bicycle gives her.

In August, the family is invited to attend a barn raising. Lucinda has a fever so Mam will stay home to tend to her. After the cart has left for the barn raising, Mam remembers the pies. Someone is going to have to take the pies to the barn raising, and that someone is going to have to be Naomi. She is going to have to drive the buggy all by herself for the first time. Though she has “longed for this day,” Naomi is scared. She knows what to do though, and soon enough she, Jonah, and Esther are travelling down the road, the clopping sounds of Pepper’s hooves soothing them.

This wonderful book will give readers a sense of what it is like to be a member of a Old Order Mennonite community. They will see how Naomi and the other children have to help the adults to do many of the chores around the farm. Though it is hard at times, there is much satisfaction to be gained in the doing of a job well, especially when one can see the fruits of ones labor. There are simple pleasures to be enjoyed, and we can see how Naomi has a close connection with the land and nature.

In addition to the twelve poems, the author has included twelve recipes, all of which “are inspired by Mennonite tradition and call for fresh, seasonal ingredients.” Young people will enjoy trying the recipes, perhaps sampling the treats they make as they read the poems and find out about Naomi’s life.