Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Review: The Wheel on the School (And a Read Aloud Tip)

We finished reading aloud The Wheel on the School by Meindert Dejong not too long ago.  Enjoying it with me (us, by the time we finished -- I'll explain later) were children ages 6, 8, and 10.  The toddler also did her part by causing the usual distractions at intervals long enough for us to get some reading in between them -- on good days, at least.  The four year-old either hovered around us or the toddler playing quietly (in theory).  Maybe sometimes she even listened.  :)

The Wheel on the School is a story about amazing things happening when people have curiosity and interest in something, get really excited about it, and act to make things happen because of their dreams.  It's a charming and sweet little story overall, I thought.  The children of a small town in Holland, at the instigation of a small girl, begin to wonder about storks and how they might get some to come and nest in their little fishing village.  Their quest ends up uniting the whole village, even the most unlikely of people. 

There are a few things I might change, such as the attitudes and actions of some of the children in the story at times, and how the parents don't seem very involved in their children's lives throughout a lot of the book.  However, I appreciated the main messages of the book, and although there were some things to discuss, I think it's a keeper.  I also liked the teacher's methods in letting the children explore their interests and facilitating them -- a nice example.  The setting in Holland was an added bonus because the story discusses things like dikes and wooden shoes, not to mention the concept of storks nesting on wagon wheels on rooftops.  I wouldn't say this book is necessarily a "must read," but we enjoyed it and I may read it again with the younger ones someday.

One thing not directly related to this book that we learned while reading, is that it's best for us if Dad and Mom each read separate books to the children if we are both going to be reading aloud, unless we're all reading it together (usually the parent not reading does something besides listening to the story), or perhaps if the book is well known by us.  We tried tag-team reading this one starting part way through, and both of us felt kind of disconnected from the story.  I  had preread it, but not in great detail.  I found myself getting confused if John had read the chapter before the one I was reading to them, and at times would have to ask the children to remind me what had happened, and not just for a narration exercise!  He had a similar experience.  We've decided to read different books aloud now, and so far that's working well.

Another note I thought I'd tack onto the end here, as I was reminded when I looked at the Amazon link:  We opted not to read aloud a different book by the same author, Along Came a Dog.  I just didn't really like it.  I found it uninteresting, and also didn't really think the subject matter was something we needed in our home at the time.  It's told from the perspective of the animals, which can be okay in its place, but we'd read some other books (Burgess, and James Herriot, for instance) that were heavy on identifying with animals, plus watched a lot of nature videos, and John and I wanted to take things in more of a different direction at least for a while.  Plus, there is a bad relationship between the man and the dog in the story, and we're not really big on the "men aren't nice enough to animals" type of message.  Admittedly, I only kind of perused this one, so some may think I didn't give it proper consideration, and it's possible that by the end of the book that message is changed if you read the whole thing.  The time may come when I look into it more carefully (although I kinda doubt it -- it didn't seem interesting enough).  As it is right now, I definitely prefer The Wheel on the School.

For more book reviews, follow this link.

This post is part of the The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival at Fisher Academy International,
and The Carnival of Homeschooling, hosted at Raising Real Men.


  1. Speaking of prolific posting. . . :)

    This is a book that I've never been a fan of. I know it's "on all the lists", but I read it a few years ago and just didn't love it, so we never read it and my kids haven't read it. I, too, like the theme, but much prefer Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (SUCH a fun read!) for that "learning is fun--pursue your interests--you can educate yourself" kind of message. :)

    We've tried the parents tag team reading aloud, too, and it doesn't work for us, either. Good for you having two read alouds going, though--we've never done that. When Alan has a read aloud going, I just take a break (and enjoy it, chuckle).

  2. Ha, I'm not really prolific, I only pretend to be now and then.

    That's great that you just leave out books you don't love. So far I may hesitate too much to do that. I haven't found a huge number I just love, though, especially fiction -- sometimes I just find it pretty boring in general and I think I'm too picky anyway. I tend to have a "can I make this work?" mentality quite often.

    Haven't read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch yet. I guess I should.

    It seems that we have a pattern of one or the other of the read-alouds moving faster than the other. That's been worse lately, as John's been cruising along with them while I've been sick, and I've been more like crawling along. So sometimes it's seemed more like I'm taking a break! He's reading them Kidnapped right now -- his Scottish accent is fun to listen to!

  3. Nice that John can continue on while you're sick! Wish I could hear the Scottish accent! ;)

  4. We loved Wheel on the School. In fact, it's one of those books we still quote. I consider it a must read. But that's the great thing about books -- they speak to everyone on a different level and in a different way.

    I agree whole heartedly on the mom and dad reading separate books. Tag team does not work for me either unless I read the missing chapters to catch up. I hate to miss out!

  5. I haven't read everything by Meindert Dejong but we are absolutely crazy about "Shadrach." Having Maurice Sendak as an illustrator doesn't hurt as well.

    I hate missing out as well. Sometimes my husband will start reading while I'm doing the dishes and I find myself scurrying around to get the kitchen cleaned as fast as I can!

  6. hahah! hilarious about tag team reading. nowadays, I politely prohibit my husband from reading the books I've started... because it's so nice that he's helping out I don't want to discourage him, but then it's so terrible to miss out on the story if I'm not there for some reason, and I don't end up making time to catch up on the reading and it becomes a total loss!

    I must say that we enjoyed both Along Came A Dog and Wheel on the School. The one is really interesting culturally speaking, the other is really revealing about animal behavior. I learned so much about chickens! :)

    I LOVED Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, but would suggest reading it a little later on when the kids might appreciate it more?

    @Richele, I'm totally checking Shadrach out from the library when we're in the US... I love your recommendations!

    amy in peru

  7. We just finished Along Came a Dog and I wasn't crazy about it, though the ending was pretty good. My 8 year old son enjoyed it the most. I think The Wheel on the School was a much better book and I'm excited to read it to my kids next year.

  8. Thanks for the mention of Shadrach, Richele. I'll have to look into that.

    Thank you for all the comments. It's interesting that our opinions of these books differ widely, but we seem to be in agreement that tag-team read-alouds aren't the way to go. I hate missing out, too!!

  9. Like you, I loved Wheel on the School for the many things it taught us, and my daughter loved the funny episodes. Other books by him, we didn't get into.
    Except as we were studying China preparatory to a visit: we read The House of 60 Fathers and loved it. It's not an easy book, but it is a real book, and it ends happily (which is the fiction part, surely). Takes you to China but in the days of the Japanese invasion and there is real pain and real heroism.

  10. Thanks for the comment, bethlee. Yes, my children liked the funny parts too. :) Thanks also for the information about The House of 60 Fathers. Another one for me to look into!