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The Secret School

The Secret School

4.3 39
by Avi

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More than anything, Ida Bidson wants to become a teacher. To do that, she must finish eighth grade, then go on to high school. But her dream falters when the one-room school in her remote Colorado town shuts down. Her only hope is to keep the school open without anyone finding out. Yet even a secret school needs a teacher. Ida can't be it. . . . Or can she?


More than anything, Ida Bidson wants to become a teacher. To do that, she must finish eighth grade, then go on to high school. But her dream falters when the one-room school in her remote Colorado town shuts down. Her only hope is to keep the school open without anyone finding out. Yet even a secret school needs a teacher. Ida can't be it. . . . Or can she?
In the spirit of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Newbery Medal winner Avi creates an inspiring story of a headstrong girl determined to control her own destiny.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"[A] carefully plotted, enjoyable, old-fashioned tale."--School Library Journal
Publishers Weekly
When the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse must depart unexpectedly, a 14-year-old girl swears the other students to secrecy and decides to take over the school in order to complete her exit exams. "Avi weaves together a fast-moving plot, solid characterizations, sharply tuned dialogue and a wealth of detail as he evokes rural Colorado in 1925," wrote PW. Ages 8-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
In this sweetly old-fashioned tale, set in an isolated Colorado mountain town in 1925, 14-year-old Ida is devastated when the teacher of the local one-room schoolhouse must leave before the end of the school year and the school is closed down. Ida wants desperately to graduate from eighth grade, go on to high school, and become a teacher herself. So she decides to secretly take over as the teacher, hoping to prepare the seven other children as well as herself to pass the final exams set by the county examiner. It's terribly hard work, she finds, as she juggles her duties on her family farm with class preparation and trying to make time for her own studies. Ida has the support of her hard-working parents and of Tom, a fellow eighth-grader who is sweet on her. However, she must contend with the hostile head of the school board, who doesn't seem to think a girl needs a high school education, and with obstreperous Herbert, whose father thinks school is a waste of time. This doesn't have the exciting adventures of Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, but it does feature a determined girl who follows her convictions to do what she feels is right, and it's a satisfying tale. It has a nice sense of place, too: Avi himself lives in Colorado and knows the landscape well. For middle school and upper elementary school. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2001, Harcourt, 154p., $16.00. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick; KLIATT , November 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 6)
Children's Literature
Creative storyteller Avi has another winner on his hands with this compelling tale of a spunky heroine. In 1925 a young girl, living in a remote Colorado town, held very little hope of getting an education. Fourteen-year-old Ida Benson is only a few months away from earning the coveted diploma that will secure her entry into high school when her one-room school is abruptly closed. Afraid that her dream of becoming a teacher is slipping away, Ida convinces the seven other students in grades 1-8 to vote to secretly keep the school open with her as the teacher. The role of teacher that seemed so easy when Miss Fletcher managed the class becomes a test of Ida's confidence and courage. Keeping the students engaged, risking the lose of her friendship with classmate Tom, keeping up with her own studies and farm chores, and eluding the local school board are just some of Ida's problems. As the days progress, Ida learns it takes more than lesson plans to be a good teacher and she proves that she is up to the challenge. This is a satisfying story with a delightful heroine and an appealing cast of supporting characters. Avi blends generous amounts of humor into the brisk paced narrative. Readers will laugh out loud as Ida steers the family's decrepit Model T Ford while shouting, "Brake!" and "Clutch!" to her little brother operating the pedals from the floor. 2001, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
It is spring of 1925, a time to enjoy the last months of eighth grade in Elk Valley, Colorado, when the teacher suddenly announces her resignation. The head of the school board then declares that the one-room school will be closed for the rest of the year and will resume when and if a new teacher is found. The news of a lengthened summer break, coupled with the possibility of no school for the foreseeable future, might quicken the pulse of any contemporary young person, but Ida Bidson is saddened by the news. Refusing to abandon an opportunity to complete her eighth grade year and gain admittance to a regional high school, Ida becomes Miss Bidson, assuming teaching duties in the small schoolhouse while struggling with her own studies and responsibilities at home. Simply written and peppered with humor, Avi's latest work of historical fiction is a must for upper elementary and junior high school libraries. Although not as rich in characterization as his earlier novel, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (Orchard, 1990/VOYA June 1990), this book sketches an admirable heroine in Ida Bidson. Ida's ambition, tempered by the very real exhaustion that creeps up on her as she assumes the identities of Miss Bidson, teacher, and Ida, daughter, is well described. A thread of girl power runs through the novel as Ida proves wrong the school board head who maintains that girls do not need further education. Student readers might not sympathize with the education-hungry Ida, but her independence and her simple life will intrigue them. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to9). 2001, Harcourt, 160p, $16. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-"I'm not so sure a girl needs a high school education," the head of a rural Colorado school board tells 14-year-old Ida Bidson in 1925. The one-room schoolhouse that she and seven other children attend is to be closed early, and if Ida and her friend Tom don't finish eighth grade and take their exams, they'll lose their chance to attend high school. Without a diploma, Ida will never fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher and seeing the world beyond the mountains. After Tom suggests that she could conduct the classes, the secret school commences and is subsequently threatened by a county administrator, the local school board, and an angry parent. Avi ably conveys an evocative sense of life in a poor, remote farming community just before the start of the Great Depression. He skillfully creates interesting, fully developed main and secondary characters. Ida's struggles with the difficulties of being both teacher and student and carrying out her duties at home, as well as her worry about whether or not the students will pass the exams, are suspensefully portrayed. Humorously effective descriptions, as in the Bidsons' old car "hiccuping like a damp firecracker," enliven the sense of hardships. The importance of education and dreaming of one's future are imparted in an entertaining way. This carefully plotted, enjoyable, old-fashioned tale of children taking control of a bad situation is a welcome addition to the literature of empowerment.-B. Allison Gray, South Country Library, Bellport, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A strong-willed young woman pursues her educational dreams in this Andy Hardy-esque tale of a rural school in peril, circa 1925. When Miss Fletcher's mother's illness calls her away from her teaching position at a one-room Colorado schoolhouse, the school board president is transparent in his pleasure at the prospect of closing the school. Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson is not-closing the school will mean missing the exams that would qualify her to go on to high school, effectively dashing her hopes of becoming a teacher. But all is not lost: the students vote to continue secretly, with Ida as their teacher. While the plot is entirely predictable-the mean school board president finds them out and tries to shut the school down, only to be defeated in a climactic public meeting-the characters are well-developed and appealing. Ida is a diminutive spitfire who steers the family's broken-down car while her little brother crouches on the floor to operate the gas and the clutch; her best friend Tom is a tinkerer whose home printing press saves the day; and even the most obstructive student in school is rendered sympathetically and with depth. Avi (Prairie School, p. 494, etc.) effectively conveys Ida's difficulty in balancing her new role as teacher within her already busy life as student, family member (and therefore helper on the family's sheep farm), and friend, and the details of one-room education are genuinely fascinating. This isn't heavy stuff, but it gives a glimpse into a past where, although the form of education may have been very different from today's, the problems facing the schools and students will be all too familiar to modern readers. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)
540L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt


ON A COOL MONDAY morning in early April 1925, Ida Bidson, aged fourteen, carefully guided her family's battered Model T Ford along a narrow, twisting dirt road in Elk Valley, Colorado.

"Brake and clutch!" she shouted.

Ida, only four-feet-eleven and unable to reach the floor of the car, knelt on the torn seat and gripped the steering wheel tightly. Her seven-year-old brother, Felix, hunched on the floor before her and used his hands to push the brake and clutch pedals down.

As Ida adjusted the throttle lever, the battered car, hiccuping like a damp firecracker, swung into a sharp turn. "Less brake!" Ida called.

"Where we at?" Felix called up as he leaned onto the right pedal.

"It's 'Where are we?'" his older sister corrected.

"You're not my teacher! Just tell me!"

"We're close. Less brake!"

The car bumped along, causing the old tin syrup can filled with their lunch to bounce on the seat beside Ida. Behind them, dust twirled out like an unraveling rope, momentarily hiding the high ring of snowcapped mountains that surrounded the valley.

As the car churned up a hill-with enough backfiring to suggest a small war had erupted-Ida caught sight of Tom Kohl and his younger sister, Mary, riding bareback on their mule, Ruckus. Best friends, Ida and Tom were forever talking about all kinds of things: their plans, their friends, their families, what was going on in the valley.

Seeing him, Ida grinned, reached over the door-the car had no windows-and squeezed
the horn bulb attached to the outside of the car. Honnnk! Honnnk!

At the loud gooselike sound, Ruckus gave a little buck. Though startled, Tom skillfully reined the mule to the side of the road, then turned around and pushed his floppy flaxen hair out of his eyes. Seeing Ida's slow-moving car, he smiled and yelled, "Get yourself a mule!"

"Join the twentieth century!" she shouted back.

"Who's there?" Felix called from the floor.

"Tom and Mary. Now pay attention. We're almost there. Brake easy!"

The car finally rounded the last bend, bringing Elk Valley's schoolhouse into view. The building stood in the middle of its own small north-south valley, through which the dirt road ran. To the east low hills gave way to higher ground, woods, and mountains. West it was much the same. Squat and square, the school building had a pitched roof and a small bell steeple at the south end. The painted but peeling white clapboard walls had three windows on each side. Beyond the school stood two privies, one for boys and one for girls. To the south was a small shallow pond. In front of the school stood a flagpole not far from a water pump as well as a lopsided teeter-totter.

"Clutch to neutral and brake!" Ida shouted as she aimed the car toward its regular parking place, only to realize that another car-one she didn't recognize-was already there.

"Hold on!" Ida screamed. With all her strength, she turned the wheel hard about, then yelled, "Brake!" as she grabbed the hand lever and pulled back.

Barely avoiding a crash, the old Ford came to a lurching halt next to the other car. Its motor gave one more enormous backfire, sputtered, chuffed twice, then died with a shuddering sigh.

"We're here," Ida announced. Her heart was pounding.

"What happened?" Felix asked.

"Another car was parked in our spot. I almost
hit it."

"Whose car?"

"Don't know."

Ida tightened the brake, then untied the rope that held the side door shut. With a squeak it swung open. "Out you go!" she called.

Felix, crawling headfirst, slipped down to the ground.

"I hate this," he complained as he stretched his arms and legs.

"Beats walking five miles both ways," Ida said as she got out and looked toward the school. She brushed the dust from her braided brown hair and checked to see if her blue ribbons were still tied tightly. Then she smoothed down her gingham dress. Of all the dresses her mother had made for her, this was her favorite.

Herbert Bixler, Charley and Susie Spool, and Natasha Golobin were seated on the school's front porch. As Ida and Felix approached, they all looked up.

"Looky here!" Herbert shouted gleefully. "I'm back!"

"And he's already tried to tie my shoelaces together," Susie complained.

Herbert lifted one of his bare feet and wiggled his toes. "Guess I don't know much about how shoes work," he said.

Ida ignored him. "Whose car is that?" she asked.

Natasha, who was a year younger than Ida, replied, "Mr. Jordan's."

Mr. Jordan was the owner-operator of Wally's Mighty Fine Emporium, Elk Valley's feed and grocery store. He was also head of the school board.

"Guess he can park anywhere he wants," Ida acknowledged. "How come he's here?"

Herbert shrugged. "Dunno."

"Is Miss Fletcher here?" Felix asked.

"Inside," Charley assured them. Charley and Susie, who lived just over the hill, were always the first to get to school.

"What's Mr. Jordan's car doing here?" Tom called as he slid off Ruckus, then helped his sister down. "He come for inspection?" As always, Tom tied the mule to the rear bumper of the Bidsons' car with enough rope to allow for grazing.

"No one knows," Ida replied.

Just then the schoolhouse door opened and Miss Fletcher appeared. A slight, middle-aged woman with dark hair piled atop her head, she was dressed in a simple blue cotton dress.

"Children," she said, "come in quickly, please. There's grave news to share."

The children exchanged puzzled looks.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Herbert muttered as soon as Miss Fletcher went back in.

"Shhh!" Ida hissed at him. "Don't sass!"

Felix said, "She didn't even say her regular 'Good morning.'"

Natasha added, "Wasn't even smiling."

"Guess we better get ourselves in and see," Tom said, always the logical one.

Without another word, the children climbed up the porch stairs and filed inside.

The school had but one room. Built entirely of wood from the nearby Columbine lumber mill, the building was twenty years old. Most of the room was filled with ancient low benches and long student desks etched with countless initials. The desks were older than the school building. To the right of the front door was the boys' wardrobe. On the other side was the girls'. Miss Fletcher's desk stood on the left, close to a small wall-mounted blackboard, which at the moment was perfectly clean.

An aspen switch-for discipline-hung alongside the board. Next to that was the school's library, a small bookcase containing some fifteen tattered books plus a few old magazines.

A round, iron wood-burning stove stood to the right, opposite the teacher's desk. Kerosene lamps were fastened on each wall along with pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and a chart of the Palmer script alphabet. There were also pull-down maps of Colorado, the United States, and the rest of the world.

As Miss Fletcher stood by the door, the eight students put away their lunch pails and their coats, then took their regular seats at their desks.

Felix and Mary, who were first and second graders, sat up front. Ida and Tom, the only eighth graders, took their places in the back row. Ida, being short, fit easily. Tom, tall and skinny, had to stretch out to get his knees to fit. The other four children-fourth through seventh graders-were scattered about on the other benches.

Mr. Jordan was standing in a corner going through Miss Fletcher's school account book. He was a portly, red-faced man, wearing overalls and a blue shirt. He had left his straw hat on the teacher's desk, something the children would never be allowed to do.

Ida, using a trick she had mastered long ago, faced front but whispered to Tom without moving her lips. "Why do you think he's here?"

"Don't know," Tom replied in the same stealthy fashion. "My old man says he's as miserly as a sleeping marmot."

Ida dipped her head to hide her grin.

Miss Fletcher stood before her desk, hands clasped, an unconvincing smile on her face.

"Good morning, children," the teacher began in her soft voice. "I'm so very glad the whole school's in attendance. Even you, Herbert Bixler."

Herbert roused himself from his slouch. "Miss Fletcher, it's my dad. He's always needing me to work. Weren't for him, I'd be sitting here every day being a high-marks scholar."

"Well, yes, we shan't discuss that now," Miss Fletcher replied. Composing herself, she looked down, then up at the class.

"Children," she began, "as I'm sure most of you know, this is Mr. Jordan, head of our local school board. Please greet him politely."

"Good-morning-Mister-Jordan," the children chorused.

"This morning," Miss Fletcher went on, "I'm afraid I must share painful news with you."

The children sat up stiffly.

"Last Friday," she continued, "I received a telegram telling me that my mother, back east in Iowa, has become very ill."

"Oh no!" Felix said loudly.

"Naturally," Mr. Jordan cut in, "Miss Fletcher needs to be there. And since there's only a month and a half till term ends, the school board won't be looking for a replacement. As soon as she departs..." He turned to the teacher. "When's that going to be, Miss Fletcher?"

"I'll be taking the Wednesday train," she replied.

"After which," Mr. Jordan continued, "school will be closed. And it won't commence till the fall term, assuming, of course, we can hire us up a new teacher."

Ida and Tom exchanged looks of shock.

Mr. Jordan went on. "This means you can have one long summer vacation. I'm sure," he chortled, "that despite our sorrow at losing Miss Fletcher, that'll cheer you up."

Tom raised a hand.

"Yes, Tom?" Miss Fletcher said.

"I'm awful sorry for your trouble, Miss Fletcher. I truly am. But does that mean Ida and I won't be taking our exit exams?"

Miss Fletcher started to speak but held back. Instead she looked to Mr. Jordan for the answer.

"Exit exams? Well...," he said after a moment's thought, "we could hardly get us a new teacher on such short notice. So, yes, I guess your exams will have to wait till next year."

Ida lifted her hand.

"Yes, Ida?" Miss Fletcher said.

"Mr. Jordan," Ida said, "if Tom and I don't pass our exams this term, we can't go on to the high school in Steamboat Springs come fall."

Miss Fletcher turned to Mr. Jordan. "I'm afraid that what Ida is saying is correct," she said. "They can't move on without those tests."

"Now, Ida Bidson," Mr. Jordan answered, "as an adult, it's my bounden duty to inform you-as I'm certain your parents do every day-that life teaches us many a hard lesson beyond school. No doubt this...exam business will be inconvenient.

"But I'd suggest you think a little less of yourself and a little more on Miss Fletcher and her ailing mother. Besides, I'm not so sure a girl needs a high school education. Any more questions?" Mr. Jordan asked, looking around the room.

Humiliated, Ida shrank down.

No one dared say anything else.

After shaking hands with Miss Fletcher, Mr. Jordan left.

The children gazed at Miss Fletcher.

"Miss Fletcher...," Ida said, on the verge of tears.

"Yes, Ida?"

"I...I am grieved for you and your mother. But you know how much I want to be a teacher. I have to graduate this year. This is my one chance. What am I supposed to do?"

Miss Fletcher sighed. "Ida," she said, "I want you to know I begged Mr. Jordan not to close down the school. As for your exam and graduation-and Tom's-I can't rightly say what will happen. I...I will be gone. I am so sorry."

Silence filled the room.

"In the meanwhile," Miss Fletcher said softly, "we had best skip our morning song and get on with today's lessons." Quickly, she gave out the assignments.

The other children pulled out books and papers and began to work. Ida, sitting in numb silence, stared before her. All she was aware of was an enormous pain in her chest.

Copyright © 2001 by Avi

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

A shorter version of this novel was published in newspapers
throughout the country as part of the Breakfast Serials program.

Meet the Author

AVI has written more than fifty acclaimed novels for middle grade and teen readers, including the Newbery Medal-winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead and two Newbery Honor winners. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

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The Secret School 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
Sonya1999 More than 1 year ago
One day Miss.Fletcher (the teacher) leaves the town to go take care of her mom. The school is only one room and one teacher. The school would have to be closed.The students dont want school to end so they were thinking Ida, a 14 year old girl, should be the teacher and you'll have to find out the rest when you read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that is interesting because it describes a one room school and living in the past. But the adventure and excitement is missing. It can be read from cover to cover if you are determined.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson's dream is to become a teacher. But in her remote, poverty-stricken region of Colorado, most dreams don't come true, and those that do take hard work, devotion, and sometimes, just plain luck. But luck seems to be going against Ida when, two months before the end of the term, the teacher must leave to care for her sick mother. Stingy Mr. Jordan, the head of the school board, refuses to hire a teacher this close to the end of the school year. So Ida takes it upon herself to be the teacher, and run the school in secret, so that she can graduate eighth grade and be eligible to attend high school in the fall. But what will happen to Ida and her students if their secret school is discovered? This was a wonderful historical novel about one girl's determination to do whatever it takes to make her hopes and dreams come true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ever and I highly reccomend it. It is so exciting and a page-turner big time. I highly recommend it. You should read it!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
OUTSTANDING! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great book that doesn't take very long. I absolutely loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very good I read it awhile ago but I still remember it. This is about Ida who wants to become a teacher and then she finally gets to be one. I reccomend this book to anyone who likes to read. Have Fun
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is not overly creative, but is shows how kids can make a difference through their actions, and that their work, especially school work, is not entirely pointless.
Guest More than 1 year ago
~*~i thought that this book was fantastic! it was great book cuz i've alwaiz been interested in that time period and i've alwaiz wanted 2 b a teacher~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish it was longer. I couldnt srop reading. I have actually read it about five times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was leaving me hanging of my seat
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Avi is such good writer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Used this book for 4th & 5th graders book club, they liked he book, its life lesson and the story line itself.
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MRHKLM More than 1 year ago
As a read aloud to my second grade class, the story was very touching and showed the class that even with a young age children can make a difference. They enjoyed learning about how school was different in the West compared to their school in the East and in modern times.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Really good book suspenseful when Mr.Jordan comes in
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books for its courageous characteristics every one shows. One girl and her friend have been waiting for so long to graduate and go to high school and leave the small school house. They both studied so hard because they have to pass a test to graduate, bad for them their teacher had to leave. Now they can't take the test,or can they? My favorite part is when the school house gets turned upside down and the smartest girl takes control. Find out what happens when they keep this no teacher school a secret!