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Review: William Tell and ‘The Apple and the Arrow’

"The Apple and the Arrow" portrays the legend of William Tell for young readers.
"The Apple and the Arrow" portrays the legend of William Tell for young readers.

Most Americans know the very basics of the legend of William Tell. They know the hero, William Tell, was ordered by the bad guy to shoot an apple off his son’s head. He was so skilled that he did it without fear.

The Apple and the Arrow
“The Apple and the Arrow” by Mary and Conrad Buff.

After that basic summary, most Americans couldn’t provide you with any other information about the European hero. They might also mention that the Lone Ranger theme song has something to do with William Tell.

A Lesson on William Tell

The 1951 children’s book titled “The Apple and the Arrow” aims to tell young readers the full story of the William Tell, his son and how they helped to change the course of a country.

Written and illustrated by Mary and Conrad Buff, “The Apple and the Arrow” earned a 1952 Newberry Medal nomination. It features soft-focus black and white illustrations that depict some of the scenes from the story. Some show action. Others offer up more serene scenes of the Europe of the era.

The story itself expansively explores the issues that lead to William Tell’s arrest, detention and how those actions triggered a civil war in Switzerland. It also provides glimpses of alpine life in the 1200s and the differences between rural and town residents in medieval times.

Further, “The Apple and the Arrow”  accurately recounts the key incidents of the Tell legend — the proud mountaineer, the hat on the pole, the arrest, the contest, Tell’s incarceration and escape, and finally the story of the mountain fires that triggered the revolution.

Through it all, the story is told through the eyes of Tell’s son, Walter, and his experiences through the trying time. As it’s “his story,” the ideas are presented in a simple way that makes it easy for grade-schoolers to understand.

Though it’s a fine story, modern kids would probably consider this retelling a bit dull. It lacks the clever humor and brash nature that are popular among today’s readers. Instead, this is a straight-forward story without any deviation from those sensibilities.

On the flip side, at least a few kids might be interested in this, especially those interested in history, archery and perhaps those with Swiss heritage. Teachers and parents will appreciate the stout-hearted lessons it teaches in standing up to oppression, remaining brave in tough situations and being a respectful child.

With those ideals, “The Apple and the Arrow” was a great book in 1951. But in the modern era, the story needs aim a bit higher.

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