The Door in the Wall – Marguerite de Angeli

The storyline of this Newbery-award winner is relatively mature. Ten-year-old boy loses the use of his legs, the guardianship of his parents, and the household servants during the plague years in England (woosh!); boy must learn how to be noble and useful even though he can never be a knight; boy learns the virtues of patience and perseverance and becomes an unlikely hero.

Reading about a kid sitting around and learning patience can make a good story. Really – it can! Think of The Secret Garden or A Little Princess (both by Frances Hodgson Burnett). The difference is that The Door in the Wall is a much shorter book than The Secret Garden or A Little Princess (I remember thinking, when I first read them, that they were very long). As a result, The Door in the Wall is necessarily simpler. Descriptions are simpler, plot development is shorter, character development is quickly done. So the book didn’t grab my attention when I was a kid, and I didn’t like it any better when I tried it again the other day. The story is too simple, the plot is too underdeveloped, and there aren’t enough words.

But, for the reluctant young reader, this may be the way to go. For someone who wants the story, but without so much wordy mumbo-jumbo, this could be it! The descriptions of Olde Englishe Life are good – people in the streets, people fleeing the plague, living in a monastery, staying in unsavoury inns, castle life, a terrible siege, and (of course) rescue. One website says this book would be appropriate for “11-14 year olds”. I think that 14 is on the high end for this book, but it could work for 10-to-12. My only concern is that a 10-year-old would find the books themes (patience, perseverance) slightly boring and that a 12-year-old would find the story too simple. But it depends so much on the person that it’s hard to say for sure.

You may get the feeling, from this post, that I dislike saying negative things. It’s not true! I am, however, sufficiently in awe of the Newbery committee that I am loath to criticize their picks. Still, I prefer Rosemary Sutcliffe for historical knights-in-armour fiction. At least, I did when I was a child. I’ll have to go look her up and see what I think now to compare properly.

Reading Age: Hard to say for sure. Grades 5-7?

Rating: B-


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