Johnny Appleseed by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim Burke

(Suggested reading level: Grades 2-4)

Today is usually Fairy Tale Friday, but Tif is taking the day off for the holiday with the discussion of Rainbow-Walker postponed until next week. Rainbow-Walker is the story of Johnny Appleseed, and I happened to run across this book at the library, so I thought I’d go ahead and talk about the real Johnny Appleseed today, saving the legend for next week.

Yolen does a wonderful job of telling the true story of Johnny Appleseed, or John Chapman, who was born in Massachusetts in September of 1774.  I knew the story of Johnny Appleseed, that he was an actual man who did plant apple trees across the US, but that’s really not the whole story. Johnny learned to read and write before, at age 14, he went to work for a local farmer, working in the fields and orchards.

He takes off west in his early twenties. I didn’t realize that in addition to planting apple seeds, he was preaching the word of the Church of New Jerusalem, based on the writings of philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg believed that humans were spirits in material bodies. He wrote that doing good and spreading the doctrine of God’s goodness and bounty were what a person should do.

I also always picture Johnny Appleseed kinda of randomly planting seeds wherever he went, which is not true. Although he was definitely a wanderer, loving the wilderness and becoming friends with Seneca and Munsee people, he planted orchards, surrounded by fences to protect them from local livestock, selling the saplings when they were mature enough to transplant. In the spring he would check on his trees in Ohio, Pennsylvanis and Indiana.

Johnny writes that he is “by occupation a gatherer and planter of seeds.”

He died in March of 1845, wealthier than I had pictured him. I always thought of him as poor and homeless nut case, an image he seems to have cultivated, but at the end of his life, he owned a horse, 15000 apples trees and 2000 seedlings in orchards totaling 800 acres, and two town lots in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

He left behind a legend and a changed landscape. The apple trees he sold people traveling westward made America an “apple land, from sea to shining sea.”

Next Friday we’ll be talking about the tall tale Rainbow-Walker. You’ll just have to wait until then to see where a rainbow fits in to Johnny Appleseed’s story.

Published September 1, 2008 by HarperCollins
32 pages

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Challenges: 100+, A to Z

I borrowed my copy from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.


  • Carol

    Hardly a nut, we have many, many working apple orchards to this day spread through Ohio from his influence. My great grandfather used to seasonally pick apples at the local orchard.

  • I always thought he was something of a wandering impulsive horticulturist myself. Sounds like he had more of a plan and scheme in mind when he went on his apple-seeding travels.

  • Wow! This is really interesting and I learned so much from your post! I’m going to have to see what I can come up with this Friday!! I may just have to post back to this one!! 🙂

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