Onion John

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The story of a friendship between a 12-year-old boy and an immigrant handyman, almost wrecked by the good intentions of the townspeople.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064401449
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1984
  • Series: A Trophy Bk.
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 334,076
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 710L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Krumgold received the Newbery Medal for ...And Now Miguel. One of the few people to receive the medal twice, he was subsequently awarded it for his novel Onion John,also available in a Harper Trophy edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Up until I turned twelve years old the kind of friends I had were what you'd expect. They were my own age more or less. Most of them were born here in Serenity along with me. And all of us went to the same school together.

As long as those were the friends I had, nothing too serious ever happened to any of us, except a broken arm now and then or six stitches in somebody's scalp or scarlet fever. The worst was when we were six years old and Eechee Ries bad to be pulled out of the pond behind the closed down piano factory. Eech bad to get worked over with a Pulmotor. They bad him breathing again in about ten minutes and he came out fine. That was the worst. Until I got to know Onion John and we two came to he the best of friends.

Onion John was a lot different from anyone I ever hung out with before. Like his age. No one actually knew how old he'd be. But considering he was six feet and three inches tall with a mustache, it was a good guess that Onion John was well along in years. Anyway, he was a lot older than I am.

He used to live up on Hessian Hill, Onion John did, in a house he built out of piled up stone and four bathtubs and no running water. Once a month he'd get up in the middle of the night, according to the way the moon was, to cook up a stew with chunks of lead in it and maybe some chipped stone he collected and half a rabbit sometimes and always a little wood alcohol to make a blue flame. It wasn't a stew for eating. It was to get gold out of the moon, to make his fortune.

I never saw any fortune come out of what Onion John was cooking. And now I guess I never will. Because everything's changed for Onion John,on account of us getting to be friends the way we did.

It happened the day we played Rockton Township for the Little League Pennant. Onion John didn't come out to watch the ball game, actually. He came to go shopping in the garbage dump behind center field which is the position that I play. The Serenity dump for John was the same as the supermarket is for most people. He went there for whatever he needed. And if he didn't find what he was looking for he usually came across something be could use just as well. So the sight of Onion John out there on the garbage dump, that day, there was nothing too different in that.

Except everything else about the afternoon was so different I took special notice, more than ever before, of Onion John. It was the biggest ball game I ever played in. And the most important ball player on the Serenity team was me. Not that I'm the best one. There's George Connors who bats fourth, he's the best slugger our age with this trick, he has, of twisting his wrists when he steps into a ball. Ries., who almost drowned that time, he's our best pitcher. And in the field, Bo Hemmendinger is the handiest.

I'm lucky. The only way I ever managed to stay on the team was because of all the luck I had. The part I liked about the Little League was the bus rides we took when we played away from home, the singing, and what happened every afternoon just batting it around at practice. The most I ever looked for out of a ball game was not to get noticed, particularly.

Yet I was the one the whole championship depended on. According to Mr. Miller who was the editor of the only newspaper we have in town, the Lamp.

I'd just come into the hardware store to bring my father his cooked lunch, the way I'd been doing all that summer, and while the bell on top was still jingling, I heard, "Congratulations, Andy. You're in the news."

It was dark inside the store with all the shades pulled down, especially after the glitter the sun made outside. When I made him out, I saw my father over in kitchenware waiting on Mrs. Kinnoy. "It's on the desk! Take a look at yourself."

Across the front page of the Lamp was this headline about us. Little leaguers meet rockton lions in pennant tilt. When I saw the picture of the ball team underneath the headline, I asked my father, "Who am I? Which one?"

The sort of picture it was you could make out Mr. Donabue on one side. He runs the barber shop down at the bridge and be coaches us. And on the other side you could make out my father. He's the president of the Rotary Club and they collected to buy us our bats and gloves and things. They were tall.

But in between, all you could see was twelve uniforms all in a row with hardly any faces to them because of the way things were smudged. We all looked the same, Burke, Hemmendinger, Ries, Schwarz, Connors, Maibee and Berry, like a bunch of dark shadows standing in the fog with the word serenity across our chest.

This is the special way that the Lamp prints a lot of its pictures and I never minded it before. Most of the time I know what the picture is supposed to look like anyway, whether it's the Episcopal Church, or the firehouse, or construction starts on the new $125,000 school. Except this time I'd just as soon not have to suppose, seeing it was my first picture in the paper.

"Who are you?" my father turned around to answer me. "Why don't you look underneath." Below the picture were all our names from left to right and the fifth was Andrew J. Rusch, Jr. I counted out to the fifth blur and it didn't lookfamiliar.

Onion John. Copyright © by Joseph Krumgold. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2010

    Onion John reveiw

    Andy Rusch becomes friends with Onion John. Onion John is very strange, superstitious, and can't speak English but can understand it. One day Andy somehow understands Onion John. Nobody else can understand him so Andy translates. Then suddenly Andys dad wants to help Onion John. He decides he wants to build him a house. He takes his idea to the rest of the town and they like the idea. They make a big schedule and the day they will build his house is called Onion John day.After they build onion Johns house he accidentily burns it down and runs away.
    I give this book one star because I thought it was very boring. It kept on going on about the same thing. There was no plot in this book, it was all about Onion john's and Andy's friendship. If you like exciting adventures and mysteries this book is not for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2009

    Awesome Book For Dads

    The only reason this masterpiece would ever be included on any school reading list is if not one person at the school has ever read it (which is, I'm sure, probably pretty often). Newbery Award does = (99% of the time) books that read like exquisite symphonies; but many award winners (especially the "older" books) fall somewhat flat because most kids' ears aren't quite ready for symphonies (yet). Having said that, this book is an undeniable work of genius for adults (who have children ten or above). It has so many interesting, surreal, haunting themes that people without a lot of life experience (kids) are unlikely to "get" or enjoy. <BR/><BR/>And that is perfectly OK...so children, I totally get you not liking it. I wouldn't recommend it at all. But...adults with children looking for an easy read that will haunt and provoke...this one's for you...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2009

    Onion John¿the Worst Book in the World!

    Blah. Blah. Blah. That¿s what I got from this book. I would give it negative 1,000,000,000,000,000 stars! It¿s about this ugly hobo who people try to change his life. Then this boy called Peter decides to be his friend. Next, they try to change his life. In the end, Peter tries to run away with John. Unless you like boring books, I wouldn¿t recommend it. Example; `Buufvjkfd¿, John cried as they started to tear down his house.<BR/><BR/><BR/> OrphansJSJMCKM

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2008

    This sucked

    This book was one of the worst books i have read i would never recommend this book do not wast your time reading this horrible book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2008

    Onion John, an excellent book......

    I found Onion John a very well-written masterpiece of a children's book. It is about a boy who befriends a foreign man that is completely different from himself. The boy, Andy, is challenged with many different thoughts about the man, Onion John, and their friendship is a very realistic one. Overall, Onion John is an excellent book about growing up, making dicisions for yourself, and most of all, friendship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2007

    Similar to another American classic!

    Onion John and Andy are very different, but very much the same, as Huck Finn and Jim. They learn from one another and learn from all else.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2007

    A Great Novel Presenting True Friendship.

    Onion John is a great story about friendship, the characters and settings meet expectations and fit perfectly, and I made so many connections this book should be read by those who believe in true friendship. Onion was written by Joesph Krumgold in 1959. Onion John's main theme is about a boy who finds true friendship in a man who is greatly underestimated. This book also tied in with my life as I read this novel, presented in a third person point of view. Joesph Krumgold wrote this novel and presented a great lesson in friendship.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2007

    Onion John, Joseph Krumgold

    This is a great book that everyone should read! It has an interesting storyline that you won¿t get bored of. Something new keeps happening throughout the book. The whole city built a house for Onion John and he burnt it down. It¿s very funny how dumb Onion John can be. He doesn¿t understand how things work. He has his own ways for everything. Onion John can¿t even speak good English. Andy I the only person in the whole town that can understand what Onion John is saying. Andy even tried to teach Etch how to listen to Onion John. Onion John is a unique character. I have never read a book about a man who couldn¿t speak English and burned his own house down. This is different from many other books, but it was a great story. It was very interesting to read and you can¿t wait to find out what is going to happen next. Onion John is an unpredictable character you can¿t tell what he will do next. He also likes to do some weird things. He hangs rocks on apple trees. He makes his own gold. Onion john also knows a lot about spirits. He taught the kids a lot at their Halloween party. Onion John is a wonderful book that disserves five stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2006

    onion john

    Onion John is about a little boy who learns a lot about growing up! In this book John learns quite a bit about himself and how to treat other people. John had a friend named Andy and Andy¿s dad made up a plan to try to change John. John was always a very happy person this made Andy and his father wonder about John. John loved onions, ¿John ate onions the way other people ate apples or pears.¿ I think that this book is great for elementary school age boys. However, any child would love this book. I classified this book into the realistic genre. Joseph Krumgold was the first author to receive the Newberry medal for excellence in American children's literature twice. He was born in New Jersey and became fascinated with the movies at a young age because his father operated movie theatres. Later on in his life he was hired by the United States Department of State to make a movie about Hispanic workers in rural America. He won the Newberry Medal for Uncle John in 1959. Krumgold, Joseph. Onion John. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1959.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2006

    An interesting story about friendship and helping others

    Onion John is an interesting story about the friendship of two very different people. It is also about how people view each other in terms of how we are expected to live. And when help is forced, unexpected things happen. I enjoyed reading this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2005

    Dissapointed in school reading choices

    I am a 12 year old girl who has to read this in school. I found it confusing, because the main character Andy keeps switching subjects. Also Onion John doesn't speak english but his own made up language which is hard to follow because you don't know what the words mean. There is nothing to catch or hold onto your attention.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2003

    Excellent moral

    I loved this book in that it really exposes one to thinking about their morals and how they portray them onto other people. Sometimes what is right for you and the 'society' isn't what is right for other people. I think the old saying, 'do onto others as you would have them do onto you' is shattered in this story...it should be 'do onto others as they want you to do.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2003

    it wasnt that great

    Im a teen who has read the book. I found it very confusing. I think it is for kids who are older and not childed preteens would be best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2003


    this story is about the friendship between a forigner and a country farmer boy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2000


    It's one of the most beautiful childrens' books I've ever read. Honesty, purity, and humor - the essential elements of a good children's book, are all invluded here.

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