The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli, was awarded The Newberry Medal in 1950. I first read the book alongside Andrew when he read it in elementary school, forty years plus after it was published. Although the book falls into the the genre of children’s literature, its 121 pages are filled with interesting vocabulary, and life lessons worthy of adult consideration.
The story describes how a young boy named Robin, residing in London during the Middle Ages, learns to face life with courage and dignity, in spite of a physical handicap. His parents are away from home when he becomes ill, and loses the the use of his legs. Brother Luke, a monk, cares for Robin in a monastery. The monk teaches him to swim so that he can gain enough upper body strength to use crutches, and how to read. Robin also keeps his hands occupied by learning the craft of woodcarving.
Robin is frustrated that he can no longer run and play as other boys. At first he is unsure what Brother Luke means when he tells him, “Thou hast only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.” As he hones the skills of swimming, carving, and reading, he understands that these disciplines can be doors in the wall. Eventually, Robin comes to appreciate that even the crutches themselves are a door in the wall, an opportunity to be useful, and to serve his king.
Some of the words that I enjoyed learning from this book were: breviary, postern, jerkin, missal, verger, newal, and sacristan. I was also delighted to learn that the word “window” was originally “wind hole.”
In de Angeli’s Newberry Award acceptance speech, the author said, ‘”It is really true, as we used to tell our children, “When you come to a stone wall, if you look far enough, you will find a door in it.”‘ Her advice, and the title of the book are derived from Revelation 3:8:
I know thy works:
Behold, I have set
before thee an open door and
no man shall shut it:
For thou hast a little
strength and hast not
denied my Name.
That’s good advice for children, and adults.