Meindert De Jong demonstrates the impressive capacity not only for remembering a child’s mental and emotional geography but also for reexperiencing that internal state. This talent allows him to render Siebren’s physical and psychological journey with absolute authenticity.
Fear and confusion constitute a significant part of a child’s growing up. This is particularly true for Siebren, who has lived a restricted, sheltered life. Once he leaves the confines of Weirom behind, he enters into an unfamiliar world that constantly reinforces his feelings of limitations and vulnerability. The fierce dogs of Nes make him feel as if he is about to enter the gates of hell. The dispute over seventeen cents confuses him about the maturity and wisdom of adults. A woman with a shotgun, the eerie dangers of the marsh in the dark, the Gothic creepiness of the monastery, the strange giant uncle he has never met, the roaring tornado that swallows everything in its path—all these encounters disturb his mind and shake his spirit. Although Siebren is young for an archetypal journey of initiation, this journey from the too-familiar world of Peppermint Street in fact initiates him into a level of experience and understanding that yields maturity.
The journey changes Siebren. He overcomes his fear of dogs through love for the stray, which he aptly names Wayfarer. He notes that silly disputes that bring alienation need not be permanent when his Grandpa sees the...
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Journey from Peppermint Street earned for Meindert De Jong the National Book Award for Children’s Literature and is the last story that featured the Frisian setting of his childhood. At a time when books for younger readers increasingly reflected the harsher realities of a troubled world, this novel exuded the enduring virtues of a stable community full of trustworthy adults and traditional values, and it found a receptive and appreciative audience. Many readers had loved other De Jong books, including those that also had the author’s birthplace of Weirom (Wierum) as their setting, such as The Wheel on the School (1954). That Newbery Medal-winning book begins with a child whose quest for bringing back the storks to town eventually energizes the whole community. Far out the Long Canal (1964), like Journey from Peppermint Street, deals tenderly with a young boy’s yearnings for experience and connectedness. All these stories and De Jong’s others impress with their strong sense of place, rooted as they are in the author’s vivid childhood memories of dikes, floods, ice, and people. The particularity of a place and a culture, however, invariably accrues the universal, as it does in the books of De Jong and of Katherine Paterson, through the moving, insightful depiction of children who need the healing wholeness of confidence, courage, and love. Many of Meindert De Jong’s books are still in print and continue to be read by young readers and their parents. Ironically, Journey from Peppermint Street is not.