When I was a kid, I read everything that came my way. I haunted the local library and yard sales, always on the look-out for something new. Scholastic Book Order time was a reason for celebration, because I could get several books at a low price. I wasn’t one of those kids who read only mysteries, or only girl stories, or only fantasy. If the cover looked good, I’d pick up a sports story, a survival story or science fiction. (Usually not non-fiction, although I love it now.)
Somewhere around fourth grade, I discovered Alexander Key. Now, he’s probably best known for being the author of Escape to Witch Mountain, the book that two 1970s Disney movies (Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain) and one 2009 remake (Race to Witch Mountain) were based upon. (I think there were two made-for-TV movies as well, but they were completely forgettable. And bad. Very, very bad.)
But when I was in fourth grade, he was best known for The Forgotten Door. Everyone was reading it. Since then, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was in elementary school between about 1965 and 1979 who doesn’t remember either the haunting cover or (once you start talking about it) the plot. It’s on book stumper lists all the time, because people remember the story, even if they don’t remember the author or the title.
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The Forgotten Door, by Alexander Key, is about Little Jon, a boy who wakes up all alone in the middle of a forest. He’s hit his head, and all he can remember is his name, and that he fell through a door. But there obviously aren’t any doors in the forest, so Jon follows a passing doe and her fawn. Their journey is disturbed by a man shooting at them; the deer escape, but Little Jon is caught by the horrible man and his nasty wife. He manages to escape their clutches, and finds his way to the road, where he’s picked up by Thomas and Mary Bean, and their children Brooks and Sally.
Jon likes the Beans, but he still can’t speak with people, although he seems able to communicate with animals. The Beans take him in, and try to figure out the puzzle of this strange boy whose hair is too long, whose clothes are made out of no fiber they’ve ever seen, and who…in the most surprising turn of all…can make himself ‘light’, so that he bounds through the air, keeping up with deer.
After a couple days, Jon teaches himself English and begins talking; what he is able to tell the Beans only makes the mystery deepen. The first man who caught him returns, wanting to capture Jon and take him away to be studied. Fear fills the town about the strange boy, and only Thomas and Mary and a few of their friends seem to see him as a child and want to protect him. Their very lives are put in danger. Can the Beans help Jon find the door to his home, even if it’s starting to look like home might be somewhere very, VERY far away?
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This book is a fairly short (about 140 pages) quick read. Once you get caught up in Jon’s adventures, you want to know what happens to him. Originally published in 1965 it is a product of the time, with references to the Cold War and people worried about attacks from other countries. Jon is very much in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it makes some of the more frightened people in the community suspicious. Jon’s journey, and his winning over of townspeople in the face of all that suspicion is courageous, and makes for a compelling read.
Alexander Key wrote several other books about children with powers over animals or the world around them. At the Weston Public Library, besides The Forgotten Door, we have Escape to Witch Mountain (which is NOTHING like the movie…if you like science fiction or kids with powers, you should read it!) and Jagger, Dog from Elsewhere. My favorite though, which we don’t own and is very difficult to find is The Flight to the Lonesome Place.
The Forgotten Door is appropriate for fourth grade and up; a second grader would probably enjoy listening to it read aloud. It could be classified as adventure, science fiction or fantasy. If you read it, let me know what you think!