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Children’s Book Review – The Acorn People (1976)

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The Acorn People is a very short, deeply memorable book everyone should read. At 80 pages, it tells an unsentimental, yet profoundly moving tale about one camp counselor’s experience at summer camp in the 1970s. His kids were all severely disabled.

And all dying.

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Disabled and dying children, but still important. Modern movies like Sea Biscuit and Finding Nemo deal with various disabilities, famously showing but not just telling: “you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.” I always remembered this line from Sea Biscuit. I cried at the time because I thought they were talking about me.

Now I realize they were talking about…everyone.

These boys were real people

The five children featured by author Ron Jones (from his real-life camp counselor experience) are Benny B, Spider, Arid, Thomas, and Martin. They are missing limbs/major organs, are blind, or can’t move the limbs they do have.

On the first day of camp, Ron feels he can’t be around such sad, difficult children. He almost goes home. But when Ron makes the very first acorn necklace during Arts & Crafts, everything changes. The acorn necklaces bond the boys and ultimately the entire camp in a symbolic way.

Through the informal, humorous, and persistent dedication of Ron and co-counselor Dominic, the boys have an epic mountain climb, swim laps, find girlfriends, laugh, race, and learn to peacefully buck the oppressive regime of the ‘evil’ camp director (who should have been nowhere near children, let alone profoundly disabled ones. But, then, this was the 70s).

At the climax, the entire camp is alive with laughter and hope. The kids host a riotous swimming pageant with pirates and water ballet for the visiting parents. The audience goes bonkers to see such joy from their ‘problem’ children.

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The themes are a little mature for younger kids, but the message is crucial in these times. Tolerance, acceptance, inner strength, fears of ‘normal’ people about those who are ‘different’…all of this is grist for meaningful discussion with your child. It’s a good one to read aloud, to share in the triumphs of these five remarkable kids during one perfect summer.

And it’s a noble way to celebrate those short lives, so they live on among those who remember them. You’ll be super glad you read this story. Recommended.

Book Grade: A+

Buy The Acorn People, from Amazon. By Ron Jones, 1976, 80 pages.
Or listen to the entire book read out loud for free on YouTube (Parts 1 and 2.)

The Acorn People was also made into a made-for-TV movie in 1981. Here’s the IMDb link. There are a series of clips from the movie on YouTube and I’m having trouble finding them all. I’ll include a clip or two here, but if anyone can find the entire movie to stream, please let me know in the comments below.

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2 responses to “Children’s Book Review – The Acorn People (1976)”

  1. I want to reiterate this amazing quote: “You don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause he’s banged up a little.”

    I get goosebumps from this one. It’s exactly what everyone needs to hear.

  2. A thought. I think camp all worked so well for these kids bc no one told the counselors that they couldn’t do these things with disabled children. No one really knew what to do or not do in the 70s. So how they got these boys summiting Lookout Mountain for example is so epic, and so meaningful, and nowadays would never happen bc it was actually kind of dangerous. I love it.

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