Howard, Ellen. The Gate in the Wall. Atheneum, 1999. ISBN 0-689-82295-2. $16.00. 148 pp. A 4-9 FI Reviewed by Lillian Heil The Gate in the Wall gives the reader a fascinating look at a group of English people who worked the canals in England from 1745 till the end of World War II. This world of the canal folk may be unknown to many readers. As readers follow the adventures of Emma Deane, the ten-year-old heroine, they will discover the history and customs of this unique group of working-class people in England. The canal folk may have been ignored by the rest of England, but they certainly lived a better life than the hardship and despair that were the common lot of most poor people in England at that time. Howard does an excellent job of describing the tightly organized space in the ten-feet-long, seven-feet-wide and five-feet-high boats these people lived and worked in. Along with Emma, the reader breathes the fresh air and beauty of the countryside through which the canals flowed and appreciates the difference between the canal life and the dirt and grime of city life. Howard’s research into nineteenth-century life allows her to use words and expressions of the Victorian working class and the special vocabulary of the canal folk. A glossary in the back is helpful for the modern reader. The story of Emma is heartwarming, and the setting in a unique but little-known aspect of English culture is a valuable addition to anyone’s knowledge.
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