Friday, December 28, 2012

The Year of Miss Agnes

I sometimes think that because I majored in American literature and worked for years in bookstores I should know "all" the books that exist.  How arrogant of me.  I am constantly amazed when I find a book which I have never heard of, by an author I have never heard of, that is just awesome.  This was one of them.  I am not sure if I found this title on the Sonlight website or another curriculum's web site, but it was a great historical book.  Kirkpatrick Hill has written a delightful, happy book.
The narrator is a ten year old girl who lives in a small (and I mean seriously small) village in the extreme northern parts of Alaska.  The book is set in 1948.  Each year the village gets a new teacher, mostly because previous teachers never stay more than one year. 

Miss Agnes is not like other teachers.  She wears pants!  She is from England, so she has a British accent.  But, most importantly, she awakens the children to the joy of learning.  Every chapter is about some new, wonderful thing she teaches them. 

She introduces them to a timeline by making one and hanging it on the wall.  She hangs a huge map on the wall and teaches the kids the continents, countries, etc.  She reads them chapter books (Catherine was so thrilled that she recognized some of the books Miss Agnes read).  They play math games.  She teaches them songs to learn spelling rules.

The village is so small that the school is a one-room schoolhouse.  The younger students who cannot read were initially given Dick and Jane beginner readers.  The students were Eskimos and could not relate to the plots and characters of the Dick and Jane books.  So, Miss Agnes made personalized beginner reader books for each child.  They included the child's own name, siblings, and parents.  The plots were about things that the children actually did: fish, trap animals, dog sled, etc.  The kids loved these books about themselves and read them repeatedly until they memorized them.  Then they would exchange them with other students.  Miss Agnes would make more personalized beginner readers until the kids became strong readers.  I thought this was a fabulous idea and need to do this with my girls.  It would take very little time and no cost to me, yet I think my daughters would love reading books and stories about themselves!

What I loved most about this book is that it is positive.  It is a happy, uplifting story about a group of students who are taught by a great teacher.  Their eagerness to learn is fostered and their whole world is expanded!  This is mandatory reading if you are studying Alaska or the Eskimos.  But I loved it because Miss Agnes has a passion for teaching ... a passion I sometimes have and sometimes don't.  It is an inspirational book to read as a homeschooling parent, even if you don't read it to your kids.

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