The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (J)

The Wheel on the School

The Wheel on the School    

Meindert DeJong (Juvenile Fiction)

Welcome to Shora, a fishing village in Holland on the shore of the North Sea in Friesland.  Shora has some houses, a church, a clock tower, and a school, but it is the school children that makes this town—this story—so special.  Of these six school children, there is only one girl and her name is Lina.  One day, in the middle of arithmetic, Lina asks a question that will set in motion a series of events that will change their little village forever: “Teacher, may I read a little story about storks?”  You see, no one can remember a time when there were storks in Shora and Lina’s essay made everyone begin to wonder and ask why this was so.  So begins the story of Jella, Eelka, Auka, twins Pier and Dirk, and Lina who share a common dream of bringing the storks back to Shora.  But for now, that dream would have to wait…at least until after arithmetic.

Every now and then, a book comes along that reminds you why you fell in love with reading.  Meindert DeJong’s story about a small Dutch village is such a book.  It’s a charming and enchanting story about how a single dream ignited the imagination and united a village.  DeJong brings the reclusive, the misunderstood, and the outsider together to show that each has importance and value.  His message of inclusion and acceptance is delivered warmly and lovingly and gives readers a sense of hope and faith and the promise that perhaps dreams really can come true.

The Wheel on the School is a brilliant gem that shows us how a legless man could still walk tall among his fellow fishermen, how a heavyset and slow boy could become a hero, how a lonely grandmother could become a friend, and how a girl could be just as strong and brave as the boys.  Mostly, this story reminds us that even in the midst of the impossible, lies the possible.

Rating: 5/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com 

 

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling

Captains Courageous

Rudyard Kipling (Adult Fiction)

Harvey Cheyne is the spoiled, arrogant, and disrespectful son of a railway tycoon who, while on his way to Europe to complete his schooling, falls overboard into the Atlantic Ocean.  He is rescued by a fisherman and taken aboard the schooner We’re Here, where he quickly realizes that money, power, and social status matter little on the high seas.  Under the watchful eye of Captain Disko Troop, Harvey soon navigates his way not only through perilous oceans, but also through the turbulent lessons that come with life.

This is perhaps one of the finest stories about life on the sea ever written.  Kipling’s narration is masterful and the storytelling is superb.  The details of life on board a schooner are painstakingly described and detailed—right down to the last eye-bolt.  Every word is carefully chosen and crafted and the result is nothing short of poetic: “The dories gathered in clusters, separated, reformed, and broke again, all heading one way; while men hailed and whistled and cat-called and sang, and the water was speckled with rubbish thrown overboard.”

This book is truly deserving of the word “classic”; however, Kipling’s passion for authenticity often makes reading dialogue difficult at times.  His phonetic transcription of a New England dialect in the late 1800s is often tricky to decipher and comprehend (“furriner” for “foreigner”, “naow” for “now”, and “spile” for “spoil”), but it is this same commitment to genuineness that allows the reader to be wholly transported into a world dictated by the weather and ruled by the sea.  A coming-of-age book about loyalty, friendship, and love that truly gets better with time.

Rating: 5/5