ENEMIES IN THE ORCHARD BY DANA VANDERLUGT
In October of 1944, Claire’s family needs help with the apple harvest. Claire’s brother, Danny, is overseas fighting in World War II and there are no other workers available. Claire’s dad decides to hire German prisoners of war to help with the harvest. One of the POWs is Karl, who is starting to question everything he has been taught by the Hilter regime. Told in dual-perspective and written in verse, Claire and Karl slowly break down barriers and start to enjoy each other’s company, but can a friendship truly grow between people on opposite sides of a war?
Karl’s perspective as a young German soldier just out of Hitler’s Youth, is very unique and is one that is not often told in middle-grade or young-adult novels. He is confronting the many lies he has long believed, including that Germany completely demolished many of America’s thriving cities, and what that means for the many other lies they’ve been fed. Karl provides a window into life under Hitler’s regime and the rollercoaster of emotions that came from the indoctrination, manipulation, and corruption of German youth. Meanwhile, Claire grapples with what it means to stay on the home front and make sacrifices, during a time when being a young girl can be extremely isolating thanks to the unspoken horrors of war.
Based on true events, readers will learn about some little-known history. Prior to reading this story, I did not know that enemy soldiers were housed in midwestern camps and put to work where American young men were absent because of WWII. The author does an incredible job of writing these characters in a way that makes you not only understand them but start to empathize with their respective situations.
The whole time I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but think about the read aloud opportunities it offers and the amazing discussions it could generate. It opens with two beautiful “Where I’m From” poems that could act as mentor texts for that form of poetry, and it ends with a huge plot-twist that would certainly have students considering the impact of that particular ending. This book is ideal for 5th/6th graders and up, though it can be enjoyed by adult readers alike, and anyone who may have an interest in the WWII time period.
Enemies in the Orchard is a wonderful story of loss, hope, and redemption. There is an incredible amount of craft and thoughtfulness on every page. The author’s note adds even more achingly beautiful context to this story and has readers consider the “real humans ravaged by war” (p.275) and the ways in which we determine who are the enemies and who are the allies. This one deserves a spot in your classroom libraries!