Monday, May 28, 2012

Audiobook Review: The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli

This book is my first pick for the Newbery Medal Challenge! Hooray!

As mentioned previously, I'm modifying this reading challenge to make it a little less intense, and will be reading one Newbery Medal winner from each decade (instead of every single winner). And yes, I was going to start with the 1920s, but I have to admit that I keep getting hung up every time I look at the choices for that decade-- they're just not appealing. And it seems I'm not alone, according to this article on the Digital Shift. So it's not just me. Whew! But... any advice, Newbery fans? I've got to read a 1920s Newbery winner at some point, after all...

Anyway, after waffling for a few months, I decided to forget about going in order and just jump in with whatever title catches my eye. So! My choice for the 1950s is The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli.

de Angeli, Marguerite. The Door in the Wall. 2008. Listening Library. Audiobook $24.00. ISBN 9780739371879

Winner of the 1950 Newbery Medal, this title piqued my interest because of its medieval England setting. Robin, the son of a nobleman, has always anticipated growing up to become a knight, but finds he must learn to cope with a different sort of life when he loses the uses of his legs after an illness. 

This book is what I'd call a cozy read. I enjoyed the details of medieval life and was inspired by Robin's struggle to come to terms with his physical challenges. His transformation from a spoiled brat to a young man with a sense of purpose is heartwarming, as is the large cast of endearing characters who support and encourage him. 

But I have to say: this is not the most suspenseful story ever. An adult with an interest in history (me!) is likely to enjoy it, but the lack of tension in the plot might make it pretty dull for a young reader.

For example: the characters are traveling through a wood, and realize they have to stop for the night. One character mentions he had been this way before, and found a woodcutter's cottage to be a hospitable place to stay. With this kind of setup, you're thinking-- okay, SOMETHING BAD has definitely happened to that woodcutter, and our main characters are about to be attacked by wolves or bandits or zombies. Right? Nope. The band of travelers finds the cottage easily and the woodcutter and his wife are indeed friendly and accommodating. The lack of complications is sort of sweet, really. But will it appeal to today's readers, who expect twists and turns and cliffhangers?

That said, the audio production of this book is truly stellar. Roger Rees, a well-known actor who got his start in the Royal Shakespeare Company, expertly breathes life into the archaic language of the book, making it  accessible for contemporary readers. Too, his steady pacing and wide variety of character voices keep the narrative interesting despite its relatively low-key plot. The audiobook is further enhanced by the addition of medieval music and other sound effects at appropriate times (e.g. when the narrative mentions a song being played on a harp, or church bells ringing), making for a memorable listening experience.

If you're going to read The Door in the Wall, the audiobook is definitely the way to do it.


  1. I've had this one in my class library before, but no child ever picked it up. I thought it was okay, but basically agree with your opinion of it. I wonder if the audio might work with my 7th graders when we study the period in history. It would be nice to have a novel tie-in. I think Avi's Crispin might be a better one for this generation of middle schoolers.

    As for the 1920's.....I remember reading and loving The Matchlock Gun when I was a kid in the 1970's. That's the oldest Newberry winner I've read. I'm not sure if it's 1920's but it's very old-fashioned.

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