The Heart of Applebutter Hill

Alone in a strange country and a bit cynical, 14-year-old refugees Baggy and Abigail are rounded up with other refugee kids. Taken to Transition House at the Plumkettle Learning Center, they await guardians. Photographer Baggy moves to the mountains with the secretive Captain Sodpeg. Abigail, who is losing her sight, gets a guide dog and is invited to live in the carriage house behind Mrs. Plumkettle's on Old Applebutter Hill Rd.

Join Baggy, Abigail and Curly Connor as they fly the Cloud Scooper, sneak around Bar Gundoom Castle and row across an underground lake. Their lives change when they uncover a secret. The powerful and dangerous Heartstone of Arden-Goth, a heart-shaped sapphire, is hidden in Applebutter Hill, and corporate giants place a spy at their school to steal it. They are determined to unmask the spy, but can they trust anyone?

Summer school is mandatory. The friends have two classes together - Survival 101 with everybody's favorite teacher Luther Kohl and Writers' Roundtable with the dreaded Professor Thornhammer. All Plumkettle students study driving, including the blind ones.

With access to the off-limits dark room, the state-of-the-art auto center, and carpentry workshop, Baggy is in his glory. Abigail, a budding songwriter, is enlisted to write music for the children's summer puppet theater. What she really wants, though, is to be an apprentice on the newspaper staff. Prejudice, however, is standing in her way.

As summer heats up, their troubled friend Christopher is viciously bullied. Abigail and Baggy are terrorized by an armed stranger and jealousy over pottery-contest winners gets out of hand. The friends argue about the spy’s identity, but both think it's a teacher. When a desperate Christopher arrives at the carriage house one night with the school cat, the mysteries begin to unravel. In the end, though, it may just be Abby's guide dog Curly Connor who makes the most significant discovery of all.


Word Gathering Magazine

"Book Review: The Heart of Applebutter Hill (Donna Hill)" - Kristen Witucki

With a suspenseful adventure, multi-faceted human and animal protagonists, and compelling secondary characters, the novel holds a lot of promise for either solitary enjoyment or lively student group discussions. And best of all, disability is there, but it's not necessarily a preoccupation.

Future Reflections

"The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill Reviewed by Jacqueline Williams"

Donna Hill's depiction of blindness is beautiful and true. She conveys the reality that gradual vision loss is a fluid, ever-changing condition, running a gauntlet that few can imagine until it happens to them. ... I highly recommend this book to middle-school students, teachers, media center directors, and teachers in special reading programs.


"Blind Author Inspires Others with Her Vision" - Julie Sidoni

"It's really unique to have a character that's diverse, and that's something I look forward to in a book, and that's what this book has." Lackawanna Trail High senior Austin Pringle.
Donna presents a copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Dir. Kristin Smith Gary at the Wyoming County Public Library in tunkhannock, Pa. Feb. 21, 2014: photo by Rich Hill

Wyoming County Press Examiner

"Meshoppen author pens mystery novel" - Michael Wintermute.

In a way, the tale acts as an all-encompassing guide to childhood, as it details the struggles of bullying, consumerism and being cast from society.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

"The biggest project of my life" - MARY THERESE BIEBEL.

In the book, Abigail fights discrimination from sighted people, from the school newspaper adviser who rejects her application to the man who pulls up alongside her in a car and yells because her dog just answered the call of nature.

Purchase The Heart of Applebutter Hill & Help Blind Students

The Heart of Applebutter Hill book cover shows cave scene: stalactites reflected in an underground lake, while a hand holds the Heartstone of Arden-Goth, a blue, heart-shaped sapphire

Did you know that people with vision loss and other print disabilities can access only 5% of books and magazines? Imagine trying to compete in school, college or the job market with only 5% of the resources your peers have. That's why proceeds from the sale of The Heart of Applebutter Hill go into a fund to produce a hard copy Braille version for blind and deaf-blind students.

Profile Photo Donna W. Hill

About Donna W. Hill

Donna W. Hill is an author, singer-songwriter, recording artist, speaker, and avid knitter. She and her husband Rich live among the frogs and birds in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains with Donna's guide dog Mo (their 3-year-old yellow Lab) and Goofus, their rescued strawberry blonde tabby.

Her educator-recommended novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill is a high school mystery with excursions into fantasy for middle school and older readers. It was reviewed in Future Reflections and Word Gathering magazines and in local papers and TV, including by students of Lackawanna Trail High School (WNEP, TV-16 Scranton, PA)

Born legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa, Donna was the first blind student to complete twelve years in the Easton (Pennsylvania) Area School District. She was bullied throughout school, and teachers either believed she shouldn't be in public school or that she was faking her vision loss. She is keenly aware of the need for greater understanding of blindness by the public.

Hill's purpose in writing this book is two-fold: to open the eyes of the sighted world about blindness and to give blind teens a role-model like themselves. Sighted readers can meet an authentic blind person in the safe setting of an exciting mystery adventure. Blind teens and adults get a rare opportunity to see themselves in fiction.

A long-time street performer in Philadelphia, online journalist, and contributor to local newspapers, Hill's short stories and memoirs appear in magazines including Magnets & Ladders, Slate & Style and the Braille Monitor. Books featuring her writing include Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look (anthology, 2013); On the Wings of Pink Angels (Dawn Colclasure, 2012); and Now: Embracing the Present Moment (Rick Singer, 2011).

A talk show host and producer for RICB, a radio reading service for blind people in Philadelphia, her coverage of the Carter Inauguration marked the first time a blind representative of such a service was awarded national press credentials. Hill also interviewed local and national celebrities, including the late blind guitarist Doc Watson. Dr. Kent Gustavson interviewed Hill for his biography of Watson, Blind, But Now I See (2010).

An experienced talk-show guest, she has been interviewed by psychologist Dr. James Sutton (The Changing Behavior Network), Janie Degenshein  (“On the Bright Side” WTOE radio), Nancy Reed and Lisa Smith (Big Blend Magazine's “Champaign Sundays”) and has appeared on Eyes on Success, Disability Matters and Blind & Beyond among others. She was recognized by Stanford University's Stanford Social Innovations Review, "Third Sector Grit" (July 2010).

Donna self-produced three recordings of her music. Rainbow Colors and Harvest, as Donna Weiss, and The Last Straw as Donna Hill. When her first album debuted, she appeared on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross (WHYY-fm. She appeared multiple times on WHYY's Sunday evening folk music show with the “Dean of Folk DJs” Gene Shay.

Her book Unopened Gifts: Tales Out of School, (1994, published with a grant from Lutheran Brotherhood) was used to help congregations integrate people with disabilities.

Contact Donna for classes, workshops, etc.:


All books by Donna W. Hill

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