Plum Tree War


At the end of the summer, nine-year-old Robert Ott's life is chugging along very smoothly. How quickly life can change!

"Remember me?" the girl said, puffing away her bearlike dog. "I'm Harriet. Most of my friends call me Harri. Do you like to be called Robbie or Bobby?"

Just as he is particular about his room, his desk at school, and his cherished backyard plum tree, Robert Ott is particular about his name. It is clear only minutes into his ...

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At the end of the summer, nine-year-old Robert Ott's life is chugging along very smoothly. How quickly life can change!

"Remember me?" the girl said, puffing away her bearlike dog. "I'm Harriet. Most of my friends call me Harri. Do you like to be called Robbie or Bobby?"

Just as he is particular about his room, his desk at school, and his cherished backyard plum tree, Robert Ott is particular about his name. It is clear only minutes into his cousin's yearlong visit that she's out to take over everything.

No turf is sacred. Harri makes herself at home in the Ott household and then in Robert's fourth-grade classroom. But when she moves in on his beloved plum tree, Robert declares war!

The Plum Tree War is one of Bonnie Pryor's funniest, most perceptive novels, in which two quarrelsome fourth-grade cousins discover how much they really have in common.

When Robert's irritating cousin Harriet comes to stay for a whole school year, it's war until the quarrelsome fourth grade cousins discover how much alike they really are.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Robert, the beleaguered nine-year-old hero of this lighthearted story, must contend with his hyperkinetic cousin Harriet, newly arrived for a year's stay. Ages 8-10. May
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-- Robert's life is turned upside down when his cousin Harri moves in. She has a large friendly dog, Monster; is bossy; is in a higher reading group; and, most frustrating, can run faster than he. The final straw is when Monster ruins Robert's Halloween costume and Harri runs away. As in Rats, Spiders and Love Morrow, 1986, Pryor uses a problem as the centerpiece of a funny look at growing up. The plum tree, Robert's favorite place, is the center of arguments between the two. Although amusing, the book is also a vehicle to show how trade books are better than basal readers, for Robert's reading improves when he begins reading the ``Chronicles of Narnia.'' The ending is too pat as Robert and Harri decide to give up caring for a fawn they had rescued and decide to form a club to study wild animals. Robert declares he can be called ``Robbie'' and makes friends with the woman next door who has been lending him books, and Harri agrees to clean her room and be more polite to adults. Although this is a fun read, and one with which many children will identify, the perfect ending reduces its realism. --Margaret C. Howell, West Springfield Elementary School, Fairfax County, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688081423
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/24/1989
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Bonnie Pryor thoroughly researched important periods of American history for each of her American Adventures. For Luke on the High Seas, she delved into seafaring in the nineteenth century so that the details of Luke Reed's journey would be accurate. She lives in Gambier, Ohio. In Her Own Words...

"I grew up in Spokane, Washington, the middle child in a family of three girls. Books were a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. I was often in trouble for reading at the wrong time. I would be caught reading under the dining room table when I was supposed to be dusting, or reading under the covers by flashlight late at night-even hiding a novel inside my textbooks at school.

"Not everyone thought I read too much. I remember a school librarian who saved all the new books for me to read first, and on several occasions she gave me presents of books. Perhaps she felt she should because I had read every single thing in her library!

"I was very shy, and, like Robert in The Plum Tree War, I spent a lot of my time hanging from my knees from a favorite plum tree, telling myself stories. Of course since I was raised in the West these stories were usually about wild horses and cowboys, and I was always the heroine who came to the rescue. The stories were long and involved, sometimes going on for days. I was always impatient to get to my tree each day so I could find out what was going to happen next, but I was too lazy to write the stories down.

"I think everyone expected me to become a writer, but it took me twenty years and a gentle nudge from my husband, Robert, to build up the courage to try. In the meantime I moved to Ohio, worked at a variety of jobs, and raised a family. I have four grown children, eight grandchildren, and two daughters still at home-Jenny and Chrissy. Many of my books are loosely based upon incidents in my children's lives, and they often appear as characters, in personality if not by name.

"My family recently moved to the country. When I'm not writing and visiting schools, we're busy building barns and fences and laying out flower beds. In addition, we all take part in caring for the four newcomers to our home: three horses and a bunny!"

Bonnie Pryor's many notable picture books include The Porcupine Mouse, winner of the Irma Simonton Black Award. She lives in Gambier, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Bad News

One Saturday morning in August, Robert Ott's whole life changed. It had been chugging along very smoothly. True, he hadn't even opened the advanced reading text his third-grade teacher had given him to improve his skills. But Robert was sure he'd get to it soon -- at least before school started again.

But just past 11:30 the telephone rang, and two pages in the journal his parents had given him for Christmas wouldn't have been enough to list all the problems he had then.

That Saturday Robert's parents were out shopping for new living room furniture. The baby-sitter, Sally Anne, was busy watching cartoons. Robert thought most of the Saturday cartoons were boring, but Sally Anne, who was sixteen and wore gold hoop earrings and purple nail polish, had been sitting in front of the television all morning. Robert had stuck it out until the sight of Sally Anne's fingernails flipping onto the carpet as she clipped them had made him forget his resolve not to let her drive him crazy. He had picked up the nail clippings and thrown them in the trash. It was not a hard job because the purple showed up plainly against the beige carpet.

"They'll come up the next time your mother vacuums," Sally Anne said.

"But they're dirty," Robert exclaimed.

"House dust is mostly human skin cells and hair," Sally Anne said cheerfully. "So I don't think a few fingernails are going to hurt."

Robert cleaned them up anyway. Afterward he sat at the kitchen table to work on the story he was writing. He was debating whether tochange the hero to a heroine named Sally Anne, and have her eaten by a dragon who loved the taste of purple nail polish, when the phone rang. It was 11:31. The receiver crackled when Robert picked it up and he knew the call was long distance. He grabbed a paper and pencil from the table by the phone. Robert was very careful about messages.

"Robert, is that you?" his Aunt Frieda asked when he said hello. It took him a few seconds to recognize her voice. Robert explained about the shopping trip.

"Have your mother call me the minute she gets home, will you, sweetie? I might have a nice surprise for you," Aunt Frieda said.

Robert cringed at the "sweetie" but promised he would. He said good-bye politely, wondering what the surprise could be. Aunt Frieda was a climatologist and so was his Uncle John. They taught at a big university in Texas when they weren't traveling around the world studying the effects of weather. Robert knew his mother worried about Aunt Frieda. She was his mother's only sister and Mrs. Ott was afraid that Aunt Frieda might come to harm in some faraway place.

There was a commercial on the television, and Sally Anne wandered into the kitchen. "Was that for me?"

Robert concentrated on writing the message down carefully. Aunt Frieda called at 11:31. She has a surprise. Then he answered, "It was for Mom."

Sally Anne twisted the paper to read what he had written.

"You don't have to be that exact." She looked disappointed that the message wasn't for her. A phone call from her boyfriend Jeffrey was the only thing that could drag her away from cartoons on Saturday morning.

"If you are going to do a job, you might as well do it right" Robert said crossly.

"You sure are a grouch this morning." Sally Anne snapped her gum.

Robert couldn't concentrate on his story so he went back to the living room and stared at the television. After a while he smiled at Sally Anne. She wasn't really so bad. She lived three houses up the street from him and he had known her all his life. It wasn't her fault his mom and dad still thought he needed a baby-sitter when he was nine years old and almost ready to start the fourth grade.

Parents were hard to figure out sometimes. On a bright Saturday morning when there was plenty for him to do, they insisted on hiring Sally Anne. But it was different every day after school. Then they had given in to his pleas to let him stay by himself for the thirty minutes until his mother got home from work. Robert's father was a welder at Do-Right Welding Company, and his mother worked as a teacher's aide, but not at Robert's school. At first, they had arranged for Robert to stay with their neighbor, Mrs. Sylvester, until Mrs. Ott came to pick him up. But Robert knew that would be worse than staying alone. Sometimes Mrs. Sylvester annoyed him by peeking out from behind her curtains as if she were spying. And even if she werent, Robert hated being in her house. Every corner was filled with hundreds of glass miniatures, Sometimes Mrs. Ott took Robert along when Mrs. Sylvester invited her in for coffee. Mrs. Sylvester smiled at Robert and gave him cookies, but she watched him every minute. Robert knew she was worried he would break one of the miniatures. It made him feel like he should sit on the couch with his hands folded tightly in his lap. So Robert had convinced his parents that for such a short time he was old enough to look after himself. He would never admit how much he hated coming home to the cold, empty house.

Robert glanced around the familiar room. The chairs were big and soft and the couch had a comfortable sag. He liked them just the way they were, but Mrs. Ott had announced that she wanted new furniture, without the grape juice and throw-up stains from when Robert was a baby.

"Do you want to play a game of cards or something?" Sally Anne asked.

The Plum Tree War. Copyright © by Bonnie Pryor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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