Through the Open Door

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Overview

Nine-year-old Dora Cookson does not know why she has never been able to talk like the other Children in her large family. She has never been able to share all the wonderful things she knows...to ask questions...to go to school. Then, on the eve of her family's move from Utah to a homestead in New Mexico, a doctor discovers that a simple operation will allow her to speak.

After the operation, Dora expects to be able to open her mouth and talk like any other child her age, but ...

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Overview

Nine-year-old Dora Cookson does not know why she has never been able to talk like the other Children in her large family. She has never been able to share all the wonderful things she knows...to ask questions...to go to school. Then, on the eve of her family's move from Utah to a homestead in New Mexico, a doctor discovers that a simple operation will allow her to speak.

After the operation, Dora expects to be able to open her mouth and talk like any other child her age, but training her sore tongue requires time, effort, and courage. Meanwhile, life on a 1910 cross-country wagon train is full of excitement—treacherous trails, desert mirages, rowdy fellow travelers, and even a baby born along the way. In quieter moments and while caring for her baby brother, Dora slowly, carefully, teaches herself to speak.

At long last, the family arrives in New Mexico to begin their new life. Dora has found her voice and is ready to embark on yet another journey—from silent outsider to speaking member of the community. She can make friends, ask questions, and fulfill her greatest dream: To walk through the open door of the schoolhouse and learn all the wonderful things that are taught in school.

Through the Open Door is based on the true experiences of a girl who grew up on a homestead farm in New Mexico early in the 1900s. Late in her life, she and Joy Hulme became acquainted as members of the same church in California. As they visited together and the real-life "Dora" shared the memories of her childhood with her new friend, they discovered they had much in common. Both had been born to Mormon families in rural communities south of Salt Lake City and had beenreared with the same religious background.

Author Biography: Joy N. Hulme is the author of several children's picture books, including Bubble Trouble and Sea Squares. She and her husband, Mel, live in Monte Sereno, CA.

Nine-year-old Dora, who has been kept out of school because of her speech impediment, dreams of learning to speak normally as her family joins a group of other Mormons journeying from Utah to New Mexico in 1910.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A Mormon family emigrates from Salt Lake City, Utah, to a homesteading property in Clovis, N.Mex., in Hulme's (Sea Squares; Bubble Trouble) labored debut novel set in 1910. Nine-year-old narrator Dora Cookson cannot talk: "Every time I opened my lips to speak, the sounds were all mixed up and mushy--more like grunts and groans than speaking." Her teacher shoos her away from school, and the others, including her imperious older sister, dismiss or tease Dora, interpreting her silence as stupidity. Only her brother Ed is kind to her, a relationship that Hulme develops convincingly and compellingly. However, at times the dialogue is contrived to deliver blocks of factual information (e.g., "[Mormon] was first used as an insult by enemies of the church . They claimed that we worship the man who compiled the Book Of Mormon instead of Jesus Christ," the father explains to the children). Just before the family departs for New Mexico, Dora visits a doctor because of a boil near her ear, and he discovers she can't talk. He diagnoses her as "tongue-tied" (meaning "her tongue is fastened down") and operates to free her tongue, and Dora embarks on a journey not only to a new home but also to find her voice. The Southwestern setting offers an exotic flavor, but the author fills in very few details about day-to-day life for the Cooksons. Readers may feel they know little more about Dora than when they started. Ages 8-12. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Despite an unflattering nickname, Dora Cookson is not dumb, but she cannot speak because her tongue is attached to the bottom of her mouth. She is, quite literally, tonguetied. Although she is nine years old, her inability to speak prevents her from attending school with her siblings, and her greatest dream is to walk through the door to learning. On the eve of her family's departure from Utah to their new homestead in New Mexico, Dora's tongue is surgically released, but the gift of speech doesn't make everything right. The bullying Brownley boys make fun of Dora's stuttering attempts to speak, and the trip to New Mexico in the early part of the twentieth century proves to be more arduous than the Cookson family anticipates. Plus, when the family arrives in New Mexico, their dream of lush farmland is replaced with an arid, unimproved reality. There is always a need for pioneer books for girls who graduate from the "Little House" series. Dora Cookson's travels and travails will enthrall young girls while introducing them to a different kind of frontier family: practicing Mormons who rely heavily on their community for faith and sustenance. There is a toobrief travelogue about the splendors of the Four Corners area (where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah come together) that might have been expanded, but overall, this is a charming period book whose determined and capable heroine will delight young, female readers. 2000, HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $14.95. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Nine-year-old Dora Cookson and her family are devout Latter Day Saints living in Utah. In the autumn of 1910, Mr. Cookson announces that they will move to a homestead in New Mexico where they will have more land and still be near a community of other Mormons. Dora, a likable, intelligent child, was born with her tongue attached to the bottom of her mouth and cannot speak more than murmurs. As a result, she has never attended school and is often teased. Shortly before their departure, a serious boil requires a visit to the local doctor, who discovers the birth defect and performs a simple operation that frees her tongue. She heals during the first days of the journey and gradually learns to speak with her brothers' help. A peaceful encounter with some Navajo Indians, Papa's struggle to find water on their land, and a new baby all add to the adventure. Though a nervous stutter causes a minor setback, Dora's dream of attending school comes true the following year. The accessible text is straightforward, and the first-person narration is particularly apt for this appealing fictionalized memoir.- Shawn Brommer, Southern Tier Library System, Painted Post, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The first of a projected series of novels based on true family stories gathered by the author, this has the warmth of real life and a bit of the static quality of a sepia photograph. Dora is nine, and her family travels by wagon from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the New Mexico territory near Clovis in the autumn of 1910. Dora has never been able to speak properly, but a doctor's visit just before their trek reveals that she's "tongue-tied." A quick, unpleasant operation cuts her tongue free. Learning to speak is no easy matter; in this first-person narrative Dora describes how she listened to her baby brother's efforts at making sounds in order to teach herself. As the wagon train travels, Dora and her family encounter changing landscapes, meet with a group of Navajo with whom her father shares his own basket-weaving technique, and reach their homestead, which is not what they expected. The search for well water—aided by a Navajo dowsing stick—the birth of a new baby sister, and Dora's steady efforts to learn to speak (and then to read) add to the texture of the story, as does the family's ties to their church, the Latter-Day Saints. Dora's voice is definitely that of an adult recollecting, but what she tells is compelling enough to keep young readers listening. (author's note) (Fiction. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380978700
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 9 - 11 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.53 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Joy Hulme
JOY N.HULME has 1 +2 +2 +3 +3 +5 +5 +8 +13 children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren. For years, teachers everywhere have praised her math books. Joy lives in Monte Sereno, California.
CAROL SCHWARTZ has received many honors for her illustrations. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two children.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Hearing the News

It's awful to be the first one to know the good news and not be able to tell it. No matter how much I wanted to spread the exciting message, a girl who can't talk can't tell.

When I heard Papa explaining to Mama what was going to happen to our family in the fall of 1910, I wanted to let Caroline, Ed, and everyone else know about it. But I couldn't. No matter how hard I tried, I'd never been able to make words come out of my mouth so they could be understood. Every time I opened my lips to speak, the sounds were all mixed up and mushy–more like grunts and groans than speaking.

Because I couldn't talk, I was considered stupid–too stupid to learn. I wasn't allowed to go to school, so I'd never been taught to read or write.

I could usually get what I wanted by nudging the person next to me and pointing to whatever I needed. I used hand movements or facial expressions to make my meaning clear. I drew pictures. I could say yes or no with a nod or shake of my head, but explaining anything was almost impossible. Some words just have to be spoken or the message gets all mixed up. Trying to get my ideas to come out the right way made me feel like a corked-up bottle with yeast growing inside–swollen and tight, ready to explode.

Members of my family were used to the way I was. Mama and Papa loved me deeply and encouraged me to develop other talents. They seemed to take it for granted that my speechless condition was hopeless. Caroline sometimes tried to pretend she didn't know me in front of her friends. Ed was my best pal. He worked hardest to understand me. Other children either ignored or teasedme; adults acted as if I were not there at all. I hated it when a group of gossipy ladies huddled together in a circle at church to feel sorry for me, even when I was close enough to hear what they said. They acted as if I couldn't hear any better than I could speak.

"Isn't it too bad about that pretty little Cookson girl?"

"She can't say a word so you can understand it."

"Sounds like she's got a mouthful of hot mush."

"No wonder they won't let her go to school. What would a poor teacher do?"

I wanted to shout, "A poor teacher would let me listen! There's nothing wrong with my brain!"

It seemed to me that any teacher would be glad to have me. I'd be the quietest nine-year-old in the room. I'd already proved I wasn't any trouble in a Sunday School class.

I should have been entering fourth grade. Caroline was in fifth, Ed was in third, and I was like the middle of a sandwich between them. Even six-year-old Frank had started school and was learning to read.

I hated staying home, especially in the afternoon, when my youngest brothers, George and Howie, took their naps. I always had to figure out something quiet to do while they were asleep. That's why I was playing house under the trailing branches of the weeping willow tree that sunny September day, when I heard Papa talking to Mama on the back porch. While she folded the clean clothes she'd just taken off the line, he told her what was about to happen.

He was excited! Even though he started in a whisper so he wouldn't wake the little boys, his words soon came out louder and louder and faster and faster. I tied my twin handkerchief dolls to a branch, where a breeze would rock them to sleep, and moved quietly to the bottom step to listen.

"Oh, hon," Papa exclaimed, "our prayers are going to be answered at last!"

"How's that?" Mama asked.

"A golden opportunity is knocking at the door," Papa told her. "We're finally going to have a place of our own. Just imagine what it will be like to own a whole farm!"

Papa paused, as if he were considering that idea. I could just imagine the smile on his face.

After a minute or two, he went on. "We've known for a long time that Dad's twenty acres here in Utah can't stretch far enough to divide between all of his children. Sooner or later some of us will have to leave. Well, now's our chance. This is the time."

"And just where is this Garden of Eden that you have in mind?" Mama asked.

"New Mexico," Papa said. "Clovis, New Mexico. There's some homesteading opportunities down there."

"You mean some of that land the government gives away to new settlers?"

"They don't exactly give it away," Papa said. "We'd have to earn it."

"How?" Mama asked.

"By living on it and raising crops," Papa told her.

"I thought homesteading days were over," Mama said. "Isn't all that free land used up?"

"Most of it," Papa agreed. "But some of the Clovis settlers decided not to stay on their farms. They gave up their claims. Now the government owns those pieces again, so they are available for other families."

"How come this golden opportunity happened to knock on our door?" Mama wanted to know.

"Clem Coldwell got a letter from his brother-in-law, who's in charge of the government land office in New Mexico," Papa told her. "John Talbot's his name. He has twelve homesteads to assign and has offered to save them for Clem and his Utah friends. Clem asked me if we'd like to go."

"That's nice of him," Mama said. After a pause, she asked, "How much land is there in a homestead farm?"

"A hundred and sixty acres," Papa told her. "That's eight times as big as Dad's place. Just imagine all that room to grow anything we want–corn, beans, potatoes, and . . ." he raised his voice to make sure I heard . . . "plenty of watermelons for dear little Dora . . ."

I imagined a whole field of my favorite fruit. Rows and rows of fat green melons all ready to cut into smile-shaped wedges. My mouth began to water at the very thought.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2011

    Highly Recommend

    This is such a great book for all ages.. You will love it and its a book you can read over & over ! Its really hard to put down.. :)

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