This realistic novel for middle-grade children concerns an artistic boy from a poor family. Randall’s father has abused and abandoned his wife and children, leaving them with little money or food in a home without running water. Most of Randall’s fifth-grade classmates shun him because he is dirty and withdrawn. And his teachers don’t know how to handle a boy who daydreams and hates reading aloud. Randall has built up a psychological wall to keep other people from hurting him.
Fenner writes Randall’s Wall using omniscient third-person narration. However, the emphasis is on Randall’s perspective. We also hear the story from the point-of-view of Randall’s teacher Ms. Birchwood, his Uncle Luke Merriweather, and Randall’s friend Jean Worth Neary.
After Randall disrupts a fight between two obnoxious brothers and Jean, she befriends him. He drops his wall so that he can talk to Jean. She takes him out for a hamburger and then to her home for a bath. They wash their dirty clothes and towels. He meets Jean’s mother and learns about the Neary family’s method of talking problems out instead of beating children.
Right before Parents’ Day, Ms. Birchwood discovers Randall’s art notebook in his desk at school. Impressed by his talent, she posts his drawing of Jean in the school’s hallway near the classroom and shows his artwork to the school principal, who agrees that the boy has promise. Jean’s parents love Randall’s pictures so much that they ask the Rotary Club to donate money to his family. The Nearys also help Randall get a scholarship to take adult-level classes at the local art museum. After coming to the school on Parent’s Day and seeing his nephew’s skill, Uncle Luke decides to move his sister and her children into a new home that he will share with them. Randall’s life has completely changed now that he has allowed his wall to shatter, letting in people who can assist him and assist his family.
Author Caroll Fenner met a boy like Randall when she was visiting Michigan schools as a guest author. That inspired her to write Randall’s Wall. Most middle-grade novels for children focus on youngsters from middle-class or upper-class families. However, Randall’s Wall gives readers insight into the lives of poor families.
My only criticism of this novel is that it would probably take shy, bullied, and abused Randall much longer than a few days to drop his wall in real life. The middle part of this book concerning this character change could be more developed.
I strongly recommend Randall’s Wall for middle-grade children, their families, libraries, and psychologists. Many children from different socio-economic backgrounds put up walls for various reasons. Therefore, this book has the potential to help such individuals understand that such walls are barriers to interacting with other people in productive ways.