The Wheel on the School (1955 Newbery Award-winner)

The person who lent this book to me to read with my boys prefaced her offer with a cautionary note. She said, “It is very slow paced. But if you keep going it is really quite delightful” When I mentioned to another friend that I was reviewing this book she said “I started that book but just couldn’t get into the story. We didn’t get past the first two chapters”. And so as I began to read it with my sons I did so wondering just how it could have won a Newbery Medal or why another of this authors books had been granted the coveted National Book Award. But perseverance brought the answer.

When a child tells a story they often meander around the main point. Or they remember something of little consequence to the story and yet of real interest to them. “The Wheel on the School” is very much like a child telling a story. And therein lies the magic. Every boy and girl in the story plays a role in the great quest. It is not always an obvious role nor even a vital role. But to that child it is their part in a grand adventure.

And the adventure itself is odd. The children want storks to return to their village where they once nested on the roofs of the houses. The goal is to find a wooden wagon wheel to attach to the school roof to encourage the birds to stop and lay their eggs there in the little village of Shora along the dikes in Holland. That’s it. That’s the plot. Yet somehow we were drawn into that town and into their lives. At night as my boys snuggled in their beds I sat on the floor and read this gentle tale. It was a lovely way to end the day.

There are few incidences of cultural behaviors which would now be frowned upon, such as pulling a boy down a long road by his ear until it was red and throbbing and a description of a spanking that I had a hard time reading! But such things can be explained as how things used to be but are no longer accepted.

This book deserved its reward. I invite you to slow down your pace of life and meander along this story bit by bit. It is slow. It is not profound. But it is delightful nonetheless.

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