The Wheel on the School
A book review for parents
This drama by Meindert DeJong is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Lina asks why the storks no longer nest in her city, Shora. Her teacher urges all his pupils to wonder along with Lina. The children's curiosity leads to an investigation. Soon they're involving their whole Dutch fishing village in efforts to learn about storks and find a way to bring them back to Shora. As they hunt for an old wagon wheel to use as a nest, even elderly and disabled townspeople try to bolster the children's efforts. Not only do the people of Shora get the storks back, but they also discover what can happen when a community works together.
Most townspeople attend church, and Janus, a lapsed churchgoer, rejoins the congregation when he feels his bond with the community deepening. The fishermen and their families readily attribute their safety to intervention from God, who protects them through life's literal storms, and they seem eager to attend church to demonstrate their gratitude for His provision. When the men of the village are badgered into helping put a wheel on the schoolhouse roof, the teacher humorously references Solomon and his proverb about it being better to sit on the roof of a house than inside with a nagging wife.
Despite having only six students, the town teacher relishes the opportunity to inspire Shora's youngsters. He urges them to wonder and encourages them to act on their curiosity. The children's fishermen fathers, normally out at sea for long periods, grow restless and agitated when forced to stay home because of the weather. (They do help the children get their wheel mounted on the school and seem to gain some satisfaction from the project.) Some of the greatest allies in the stork project are two elderly people (Grandma Sibble III and Douwa) and a man with no legs (Janus). Their ability to provide useful services and information restores their sense of dignity and purpose, and allows them to rediscover joy in their lives.
Other Belief Systems
Newbery Medal, 1955; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1973; ALA Notable Children's Books of 1940 to 1970
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- When people started treating Janus with dignity, rather than just thinking of him as "the man with no legs," he became an asset to the community and a friend.
Can you think of anyone you'd consider an outcast?
- What might happen if you and your friends made a real effort to treat him or her with kindness and respect?
- What do you think of the teacher's statement "Sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen?"
Is there something you'd like to do or know more about?
What are some small steps you could take to follow your dream?
- This story shows us that when people work together, they can accomplish many things.
What might you be able to accomplish if you sought help from the friends and family around you?
- Many of the townspeople put themselves and the kids in danger for the sake of getting the storks to return to Shora.
Do you think they should have been more careful, or was it worth the risk to accomplish their goal?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.