Monday, August 24, 2009

Forced into Childhood

My idea of Holland is set by Meindert DeJong, who wrote The Wheel on the School (as well as many other books, including Hurry Home Candy, the book that made me sob harder than just about any novel in the world). It doesn't matter that I've lived in the Netherlands for a few years; my first ideas are set by the books I read in childhood. But somehow I missed one of the Dutch stories, so when I found Journey From Peppermint Street in a library discount sale I picked it up.

The book is written for elementary aged children, and the main character is in fourth grade, but it is set about a century ago in a Dutch village, so the children seem simpler and more naive. Siebren's journey is a few miles long -- he is walking with his grandfather to a nearby village, but it is farther than he's ever been in his life. The first half of the book looks at the quaint life he lives; helping with his little brother, playing on the dikes, and cutting himself on a tin box of chocolates. Then he gets the treat of a trip with his grandfather to visit his great-aunt.

The second half has the same tone -- we are gently but firmly centered in Siebren's viewpoint, hearing his childish daydreams and fears and excitements. As I kid, I fell into this easily, but as an adult it's a bit constricting. And I found the action in the last part a bit too melodramatic, a complaint I doubt I would raise as a kid. Siebren saves his grandfather's life, which I found a bit dubious, then catches a giant fish, which, OK, and then survives a crazy tornado attack, at which point I started losing faith in the narrative. But I bet my children will be happy to have the thrill level raised a bit. It was a nostalgic hit for me, but a bit disappointing in quality. I'll see if my son will read far enough to meet the tornado. B+

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