Will you wonder why and wonder why?

“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 De Jong

When I read the above paragraph, I feel head over heels in love with this little book.  What a powerful concept for kids–it’s okay to wonder and ask questions, because that’s how you find out and then make things happen.  Can you imagine having  a teacher like this?  This teacher (there’s never a name) is definitely on my list of favorite literary teachers.

For those that haven’t had the pleasure of reading The Wheel on the School, it’s a story of a small community and its children.  All the other nearby towns have storks that nest on the roofs of the houses, but not Shora.  All that’s needed is a wheel–but where can you find a wheel that isn’t needed?  So, the children set out to find a wheel, having adventures and meeting their neighbors along the way.

For years, this book has been recommended to me.  And it was always on The List, but The List is rather long.  And honestly, the little I knew about this book didn’t really interest me.  It’s a Newbery winner (1955), but that’s not always a sign of it being delightful.  So I opened the book with some trepidation, which lasted about 5 minutes because it is delightful.  I’ve never had the slightest interest in storks or The Netherlands or wooden shoes (were they comfortable?  I’m thinking no), but after closing the final pages, I wanted to know more.  A lot more.

Historically speaking, this book is pretty vague.  It’s definitely old-fashioned, though there’s nothing to place it firmly in a decade or century.  If I had to guess, I’d put it right around 1900.  But it does all the things that the best books in kidlit history do–it makes the reader want to know more.  It informs, but it leaves enough unsaid to make captured readers keep going.

And just as importantly, it’s a great example of children having the ability to solve problems and get to know cranky neighbors.  I love cranky neighbors that are really softies underneath!

Most of the books I’ve talked about so far on this blog have been American.  What are some other great examples of books about other countries that I should check out?

2 thoughts on “Will you wonder why and wonder why?

  1. I loved her books when I was young and should definitely give them a re-read now. I also loved Kate Seredy’s The Good Master (1935), which won the Newbery in 1936, set in Hungary, and Marie McSwigen’s Snow Treasure, set in Norway, about WWII war resistance in a small community, and K.M.Peyton’s lovely English Flambards series. Recently I borrowed a copy of the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read (978-0-7893-1876-3) and there are some terrific international titles in there that I simply must track down now: you’d probably enjoy a browse through that one as much as I have. (Actually, it’s a keeper, the sort of book you’d want on your shelf for reference, if only because it’s toooo heavy to borrow repeatedly!)

  2. When I was young, I enjoyed Peachblossom by Eleanor Frances Lattimore, which takes place in China during WWII. It describes the war and its hardships on children, but it’s not too grisly–just right for a young person to empathize with someone affected by war, but not too scary. Lattimore, I believe, wrote several other children’s books that take place in China.

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