The Gate in the Wall
July 26, 2016
Candace Hardy (22 articles)

The Gate in the Wall

It’s rare to read a children’s novel and wish there were a sequel but Ellen Howard’s THE DOOR IN THE WALL is an exception. Here in NW Ohio we have a wonderful historical phenomenon known as the canals. Just a short trip to Grand Rapids, Ohio, and you’re treated to historical Ludwig mill and a narrated ride on an actual canal boat in the locks.
So it was a great surprise to learn that such a thing existed in Victorian England.
Emma’s life has been hard, working in the mills and returning home with her meager wages to support her sister, her sister’s baby, and heavily drinking brother in law who is quick with the back of his hand. A minute late for work and young Emma finds herself locked out the mill with her wages docked. Fearful of returning home she discovers a gate in the wall she hasn’t seen before. It opens onto a canal, path running alongside, and she discovers a boat , which looks like it could barely make it between the stone walls. Having stolen a potato and intending to hide for the day, she scrambles underneath the canvas tarp of the boat.
She has crawled into the boat of Mrs. Minshull, the boatwoman of a small but incredibly neat boat known as the Cygnet. At that moment Emma is thrown into a world she could never have imagined of driving Rosie, a draft horse as she pulls the boat through the canal. At first, Mrs Minshull expects her to work off the potato she has stolen but as the canal route takes her further and further from her old life, Emma begins to wonder if she’ll ever see her old home, Nancy and brother-in-law Ben again.
Her life becomes one of safety, cleanliness and regular meals and daily fresh air. Rosie of whom she was at first terrified is found to be a docile and sweet companion.
Heartfelt and wonderfully told, the reader shares Emma’s efforts to return home only to realize she’s made a terrible mistake.
The use of period language is amazing as are the descriptions of the workings of the locks in the canal might make it a difficult read, but for the strong mid-grade reader who loves history, this book is not to be missed.

Candace Hardy