fiction favorites…The Wheel on the School

“We can’t think much when we don’t know much.  But we can wonder!  From now until tomorrow morning when you come to school again, will you do that?  Will you wonder why and wonder why?  Will you wonder why storks don’t come to Shora to build their nests on the roofs, the way they do in all the villages around?  For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.”

The Wheel on the School, by Meindert DeJong, is a story about what happens when a group of children begins to wonder. 

 In the little Dutch fishing village of Shora, six schoolchildren wonder why the storks, which bring good luck, nest in all the nearby villages, but not their own.  They are lucky enough to have a teacher who encourages them to keep on wondering and questioning, searching and planning, working and hoping until their wonder turns to dreams and to reality.  Along the way, they link arms with such salty characters as Grandmother Sibble III, who thinks best when sucking on a wineball, cantankerous Janus, who lurks in his wheelchair, armed with stones to pelt boys coming to steal his cherries, and Old Douwa, brim full of spunk at 93 years of age.  These quirky, old folk, become real, and more than that, friends, to the children for the first time as they conspire together to bring back the storks.  It is a story that quietly evokes the plain, hardworking, stoic lives of the villagers, while also leading us on a risky, threatening, suspenseful journey led by an unlikely band of the very young and the very old. 

Meindert DeJong won the Newbery Medal for this book in 1955, and Maurice Sendak contributed the perfect, quaint illustrations.  DeJong was born in Holland, but immigrated with his parents to the U.S. when he was a young boy.  He has written many beautiful stories, ultimately winning the Hans Christian Andersen medal, the highest international award for an author of children’s books, given to one “whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.”  Certainly several others of his titles will be popping up in my blog.  This is one we have read more than once, and which many people I know include on a list of their very favorite books.  It makes a great read-aloud for even fairly young listeners.