“Possums: I thought they hung out in the country. Or in eucalyptus forests in Australia. Not outside my Brooklyn apartment, looking like small dogs with beady little eyes and claws that haunt your dreams. Like the hipsters and the foodies, the possums have come to Brooklyn, and I’m not happy about it. So I picked up Appleblossom the Possum, the third novel by Holly Goldberg Sloan (author of the phenomenal Counting By 7s) as a skeptic. There was no way this friendly creature on the cover, waving no less, (waving!) was the real deal. Her sweet name, Appleblossom, it was a ruse; a ploy. As it turns out, in Sloan’s lovely book, possums are masters of deception. They’re the true performers of the animal kingdom, having to put on a brave face, in order to get some grub and steer clear of the true monsters: cars, dogs, and us.
Appleblossom, the last newborn possum to crawl into her mother’s pouch behind twelve siblings, is less sure what role she’ll play as she and her brothers and sisters train for the life of a solitary animal or, as her mother calls it, their first “solo show.” You see, acting is fundamental to the life of a possum. Not only do possums have to act brave and confident in the face of real-world threats (the aforementioned cars, dogs, and people), but they also have to, literally, play dead if they encounter life-threatening dangers.
With wonderful pink-tailed black and white illustrations by Gary A. Rosen, we follow Appleblossom and two of her loyal brothers as they sleep the day away, then walk the night to “grind the grub,” even if they wish they were still safe in their mother’s pouch.
It’s when the curious Appleblossom falls into the chimney of a family’s home that her bravery is truly tested, and she discovers that she’s smarter and more daring than she knew in the face of a potential final performance; that one last curtain call.
Using this kind of playful language of the theater to explain how possums stage their lives, Sloan takes us through the use of props, improvisation, gut instinct, and, even the moon as a spotlight, as the possums find danger and adventure around every corner. The antics of the possums aside, much of the book’s humor comes from the perspective of Izzy, the household’s only child, who is in search of a “real pal,” as well as the book’s true villain, her dog Columbo, whose one track mind (getting hold of a red ball) switches fast when Appleblossom enters his home. (There’s a great bit on Columbo “doing his business,” as Izzy’s parents call it, which Izzy envisions as Columbo sitting at a desk in an office, pretending to do work but actually watching videos of other dogs.)
In the end, Izzy’s search for a friend, and the importance of friendship and family are at the heart of the book. While looking for a part to play, Appleblossom discovers that the role of family in her life is as vital to her as her ability to perform. Sloan’s light-hearted, funny, and clever tale is perfect for the young animal lovers and adventurers in your life. It even made this possum skeptic believe there might be more to this misunderstood marsupial than meets the eye. Maybe the possums I’ve seen have come to Brooklyn to get closer to Broadway.
Are your kids ready to meet Appleblossom the Possum?”
—Melissa Sarno, BNKids Blog