by Marguerite de Angeli
128 pages / originally published 1949
(latest edition 1998)
This classic children's book should be in every household. It is a simple story of a boy who, like all (or at least most) children, worries that he cannot measure up to the hopes of his parents.
Of course, as in any story, this universal theme of growing up only catches at the heart when it is couched in a particular setting. The setting in this story is the Middle Ages. The anxiety of the boy mentioned above (whose name is Robin) arises not from wandering through the modern adolescent angst of a typical "Teenage Wasteland," but from being lamed by a mysterious illness that the medicine of the Middle Ages could neither understand nor cure. Robin's parents are not your typical upper-middle-class professionals of our day, looking for the right college for their boy; instead, they each serve the King and Queen, and are absent when Robin lives through the deadly sweep of the plague through London. Robin's journey back to his parents' estate, hobbling on crutches the entire way, and facing the dangers of the medieval countryside, becomes a symbol for his quest to figure out his purpose and place if he cannot ride into battle as his father does. With the help of education from Brother Luke and Brother Matthew, and in hope in God, Robin searches for "the door in the wall" - the opening in his circumstances that will allow him a way forward. The story climaxes with the revelation of a literal door in the wall that reunites Robin with his parents, and allows him too to serve his king in his own way.
A great story to encourage children to look beyond their limitations toward the possibilities that God puts in their paths through the help of other Christians, with (as a big bonus) thoughtful and compelling illustrations by the author herself. You can find it at Amazon.com here.