Lina wonders why there are no storks in her costal Dutch village of Shora but the nearby village of Nes there are storks on every roof. After some investigation, she realizes that the village roofs are too steep and pointed; storks need a flat space to nest, like the wagon wheels on the roofs of Nes. Lina's enthusiasm, and her classmantes', causes her schoolteacher to suspend lessons to look for a wheel. The children's persistence leads the whole village to put a wagon wheel on the schoolhouse to entice a pair of nesting storks in Meindert DeJong's The Wheel on the School.
There's a sweet, earnest sentiment to DeJong's writing in The Wheel on the School; a can-do attitude. Eelka finds a wheel, but it starts to fall apart from age; old Janus, on the other hand, can put the pieces back together. Auka aids a tin peddler during his search for a spare wheel.It reminded me very much of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, a book I haven't read in years; both have a make-the-best-of-any-situation tone and have very resourceful characters. Perhaps the attitude is due to the storks - it is said that storks bring good luck to a house when they next on the roof. Shora certainly sees it's share of fortunate events during the children's quest to put a wagon wheel on the school.
Maurice Sendak contributed simple drawings to the book. Used as chapter headings and sprinkled throughout the story, the drawings add a little bit of whimsy. Rowing out to rescue the storks, the women struggling through the storm to church, the children gathered around Janus. They look like simple charcoal sketches, very sweet.
DeJong's book was quite fun to read, a happy story (every once in a while, we all need a happy story), and it was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1955.