When he accepted the 1955 Newbery Medal for The Wheel on the School, De Jong told his audience that to write this story, he had dug deeply into his own childhood in a small Dutch fishing village that hugged the dikes along the North Sea to find the “universal child” that he once was and that all children are. Perhaps that explains why this book, with its setting and plot so removed from contemporary Western culture, continues to be satisfying to young readers. Psychologist Sigmund Freud once argued that being able to work and to love are the prerequisites to maturity; readers can see in this book six children unconsciously but successfully maturing in both competence and relationships.

From the beginning, the teacher fosters this growth in his students, as good teachers will do. He allows his classroom routine to be interrupted for significant learning, first by listening to Lina’s report—she will always have the satisfaction of knowing that she sparked the whole adventure—and then by giving the children the time and encouragement to learn about storks and, beyond that, to work to make their dreams become reality. His first admonition to them sets the theme of the book: “For sometimes when we wonder, we can make things begin to happen.” While he worries that they might be crushed by the defeat that seems so likely, he also encourages them to think about the long term as well as the immediate present. Janus, who had been a man of action before his accident, admires...

(The entire section is 613 words.)