The Secret School by Avi


Posted on October 17, 2017 12:52:55 AM UTC
One School One Book, Children, Advanced Elementary

OperationRead Review Metadata
Title: The Secret School
ISBN: 9780152046996
book cover

I loved the "Little House on the Prairie" books as a kid. They are kind of an easy-reading, longer chapter book (with pictures!) series, and it always felt like an accomplishment to get through the story and start the next book. The fact that there was a popular TV show based on the books at the time, and that my best friend was reading through them at the same time, helped to maintain my interest.

Unfortunately, I have not had any success when trying to introduce these books to my own children. I started reading “Little House in the Big Woods” (the first book) aloud to my daughter when she was around five or six, but we never got to the end. The story, she complained, was either very boring (chopping wood?) or very scary (bears and wolves, oh my!). A shame, for sure, because the Little House books bring a part of American history alive to generations of kids whom never lived without electricity or indoor plumbing.

I just spent two paragraphs discussing a book that I am not even reviewing, but the point was, I thought there might be several similarities between the Little House stories and "The Secret School" by Avi. Looking back, that was a weird assumption. Little House takes place around 1870, from Wisconsin to Kansas, while "The Secret School" is set in rural Colorado in 1925. Laura Ingalls Wilder began publishing her series in 1932, while Avi’s book was published in 2001. Perhaps most obviously, the Little House stories were based on the author’s true experiences growing up on the Midwestern plains, while "The Secret School" is purely fictional and centers around (duh) a school. Perhaps most importantly, the worst behavior Laura and her siblings exhibit is talking back and lying. Talking back and lying are kind of at the forefront of "The Secret School", and the message seems to be that the ends justify the means (they are only lying and talking back because they want to go to school!).

Dear Ida Bidson, at the tender age of 14, has her heart set on becoming a teacher, and no one is going to get in her way – especially not the local school board, who has decided to close their little country school early for the year when the teacher is called to another state for a family emergency. So Ida and her schoolmates decide to continue to hold class, climbing through windows to open the locked building each day. Ida tells her parents honestly what they are doing and why, but when they raise (valid!) concerns, Ida firmly stands her ground. And wins. Every time.

I read this book hoping to find a good One School One Book selection, and it fits several requirements: It is less than 200 pages, a quick read with a fairly simple plot. It is available in paperback. Ida (a girl) is undoubtedly the main character, but her strongest supporting characters are her little brother and her friend, Tom, making this book at least palatable for both girls and boys. The kids in the story show initiative and resourcefulness, which are great qualities for discussion.

Unfortunately, I am totally turned off by the spineless parents. I understand that in that setting, children were often left to their own devices, and school was not the “given” it is today. However, the backtalk without consequence and the breaking and entering of a school building (however primitive it was, and for whatever good intentions) seemed to be celebrated by this story, and that worries me most of all.