HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Apple Dumpling Gang
Author: Jack M. Bickham
Jacket Illustrator: Marvin Mattelson
Publisher: Ace Books, republished in 1983
ISBN-13: 978-0385076371 Hardcover
ISBN-10: 0385076371 Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0441025879 Paperback
ISBN-10: 0441025870 Paperback
Language level: 5
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Age 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR—and I feel that I’m being charitable here)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Bickham, Jack M. The Apple Dumpling Gang (published in 1971 by Doubleday and Company Inc., Garden City, NY). Adam Bricker, a forty year old, childless widower, is the sheriff of Hopewell, an isolated old “Wild West” town around 1880. The town drunk, John Wintle, says that he is leaving on a trip to San Francisco and asks Bricker to accept a package for him while he is gone. Bricker agrees. Meanwhile there are three groups of outlaws hiding out in the hills around Hopewell—the Hole in the Wall Gang, the Stillwell Mob, and the Hash Knife Outfit. The town’s newspaper editor, Harold Enright, thinks that Bricker is not doing enough about them and constantly badmouths him in the paper, hoping that he will be defeated in the upcoming election. Wintle’s “package” turns out to be his five children—seventeen year old Adele, fifteen year old Bobby, ten year old Clovis, eight year old Doreen, and three year old Ellen. Their mother had died back east, and their aunt had sent them out west to be with their father, but with Wintle gone, Bricker becomes responsible for them.
When Enright writes an editorial about Bricker’s making apple dumplings with the children, all three gangs figure that the sheriff is too busy to watch the town, so they decide to rob the bank on the same Saturday afternoon. In addition, Clovis turns up missing. What happens during the bank robbery? Where is Clovis? And how will things turn out with the children? Many people are familiar with the 1975 Walt Disney comedy movie based on this book. Disney did its usual good job of turning the story into a film suitable for children, but while the book is about children it is not written for children. It has an interesting plot which seems somewhat like a spoof of “Old West” movies, but the language is atrocious. The “h” and various forms of the “d” words, including g*d*a*, are used frequently, the Lord’s name is often taken in vain, and even some vulgar slang terms for male anatomy and human bodily functions are found.
In addition, there are instances of smoking and drinking, references to women of ill repute, and other adult type situations. As a result, mature readers might enjoy the humor, but it is not something that one could readily recommend for youngsters. At least, I would not feel comfortable handing it over for a ten or twelve year old to read. Even though there are some positive themes in the book, such as the need for civic involvement, the importance of moral choice, and the burden of public leadership, many people apparently feel that the movie, which is in a number of details quite different from the book, actually improved on the story. A sequel book, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again by Gary Poole, appears to be nothing more than a novelization of the sequel movie from Disney which is not directly based on anything written by Brickham but simply uses some of the same characters.