I love a story with a wealth of meaning behind its words. This one is exemplary. Within, young Robyn’s father has left for the Scottish wars, his mother has gone to wait on the ailing queen, and Robyn awaits John-the-Fletcher who will escort him to the manor of Sir Peter where Robyn will serve as squire. But Robyn takes ill and loses the use of his legs, John-the-Fletcher never arrives, and the servants flee for fear of the plague that rages through London.
A monk named Brother Luke carries Robyn to the abbey where he cares for him. “Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it,” the monk encourages him. But who would look for such a thing in illness?
At the abbey, Robyn recovers, but his legs remain crippled. “We must teach thy hands to be skillful in many ways, and we must teach thy mind to go about whether thy legs will carry thee or no,” Brother Luke tells Robyn. “For reading is another door in the wall, dost understand, my son?”
Robyn grows strong, and eventually receives word from his father to continue to Sir Peter’s, which he does with the aid of the monk. It is there, when danger threatens the castle, that Robyn truly comes to understand Brother Luke’s words. For it is there he finds his own door in the wall.
Written in 1949 and capturing the Newbery the following year, The Door in the Wall has become an American classic. Its sweet story and positive message are still as relevant today as they were sixty years ago. It is chuck full of gentle lessons, like: “Each of us has his place in the world…If we cannot serve in one way, there is always another.” Or, “None of us is perfect. It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit. We can only do the best we can with what we have.” And, “He had found out that the harder it was to do something, the more comfortable he felt after he had done it.”
The Door in the Wall also provides a textbook of fascinating medieval context. Ms. deAngeli had a special talent for detail that adds such richness to her settings. And her formal language style aids this illusion of stepping back in time. She doesn’t apologize for tough vocabulary, either. This makes the book more challenging to read, but sixth graders should handle it with ease.
This story has so much to offer. I’d definitely make it available to 10- to 13-year-old readers.