“Can you recommend a GOOD book?”
I get that question from parents who are looking not for a well-written story, but rather one which somehow embodies GOODNESS. They want their children to experience books in which the characters model (or ultimately learn) traits like sharing, respect, integrity, honesty, perseverance, self-sacrifice, or courage. I think they are wise: good stories inspire and encourage us, children and adults alike, to be stronger, better, kinder.
Fortunately, there are many excellent choices, including this older gem I discovered recently.
The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key (lexile: 720; AR book level: 5.0; 126 pp)
Little Jon has fallen … fallen through a forgotten door. From where? To where? Well, he has landed in a cave, in the hills of the rural eastern U.S., perhaps around 1960. He emerges with the realization that he doesn’t know who he is or where he’s from. But the reader soon learns that Jon can do some amazing things: communicate with animals, run very fast, read minds … and maybe more.
His first encounter with people is frightening, and he runs away. Then he is found by the Bean family. Tom & Mary and their three children take him in, though he is strange to them and at first seems unable to speak. Soon they discover some of Jon’s remarkable abilities, and wonder where he might be from. But word leaks out about this “wild boy” with the strange powers. Local folk are frightened or angry; the CIA and the military are interested in him for their own reasons. Can the Beans keep protecting him? Can he somehow get back home before it’s too late?
The breathtaking beauty of the book (for me, at least) is that Jon is both so innocent and wise. Hatred, dishonesty, anger, and prejudice are all completely foreign to him and, it seems, to the Place from which he came. And there are a few good folk in the story — like the Beans — who understand how wonderful that is.
This older story (1965) is classed as science-fiction, but the sci-fi element is very minor. If you look at the reviews on Amazon, you’ll find dozens of adults who call it one of the most memorable, even influential, books they read as children.
Among others I have already reviewed, I can also recommend:
- One-Handed Catch, by M. J. Auch
- The White Mountains (and sequels), by John Christopher
- Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- A Long Walk to Water, by Barbara Park
- Heart of a Shepherd, by Roseanne Parry
- The Transall Saga, by Gary Paulsen
- Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen
- The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien