Avi is one of my favorite children’s authors. This isn’t one of his more celebrated works, but it’s still a cute read, well-written, and it illustrates the difficult life of farmers in Colorado in the 1920’s. Most especially, it highlights the one room schoolhouse.
Ida Bidson is in eighth grade. Next year she’s looking forward to high school, but her parents remind her that’s not a sure thing. She would need to find a place to board, because it’s in the city twenty miles away. And the farm would need an especially good year so they could afford to send her. But Ida’s hopes are high—until Miss Fletcher announces that she must quit teaching to care for her ailing mother. Mr. Jordan, the head of the school board, decides to close the school since only six weeks remain till summer break. But, Ida realizes, if the school closes early no one will get credit for completing the year. All the students will have to repeat a grade, the eighth graders will not be able to take their exit exams, and there will be no high school next year. The school MUST stay open! But how?
One of the students has an idea. Ida can be their teacher! Then the school can stay open. But it must remain a secret from Mr. Jordan. Well, their plan almost comes off without a hitch.
This plot is somewhat predictable, but Avi gives it enough life to make it enjoyable. He’s a master of readability and includes lots of quirky details that make the whole thing fun. Like the old Ford that Ida and her little brother drive together—Felix working the pedals because Ida can’t reach them when she steers. Or like the time the county examiner shows up just after the older boys play crack the whip and send Ida tumbling into the pond. Or how about when it starts to hail, so they bring the Kohl’s mule into the schoolhouse?
The Secret School would be a great companion to any related history lesson. It breaths life into the old schoolhouse and shows how much work life could be in the past. It’s perfectly clean and could easily be understood by kids as young as third or fourth grade. Independent reading level would probably be about fifth grade. Recommended.
The Secret School, by Avi, 2001, Book Review