by Meindert DeJong, pictures by Maurice Sendak, published 1954
“We can’t think much when we don’t know much. But we can wonder!..For sometimes, when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.”
With a wise teacher at their helm, five young children in the Netherlands begin to wonder, and act. And through that, the town changes, all for the better. This children’s book is a hymn to optimism, and to the power of perseverance. Yet it is in all ways, a very, very gentle book, almost from another consciousness than our normal one. Perhaps it’s the setting – in olden days in the Netherlands, set in a town surrounded by dikes and the wild North Sea. All the elements have a power that is hard to imagine when you read this children’s book in the warmth of a 21st century home.
That is the real beauty of this children’s book. It transports children to another time, another place, another way of living, where we see that a universal law still exists: Kindness and hope are essential.
I especially loved reading how each child confronted some major fear, and transformed it into a power. For one, it was a feeling of being too small. For another, it was a fear of a man who’d lost his legs. Every one becomes greater in this book, as they meet their very human fears, and overcome them. And we celebrate with each victory.
The book is also filled with action. Each time I think the story will end, yet another crisis looms, and the children have to rise to the occasion. Over and over, we see how difficult life can be, and how important it is to be resolute.
I think this children’s book would be terrific for a classroom studying other cultures. This Newberry Medal winner is also a lovely book to read as a family.