"What will happen now?" I asked Mamma as we watched the plane take the teacher away.
"Maybe no more school." Mamma twitched her shoulder a little to show she didn't care. Mamma never went to school much, just a few months here and there when her family wasn't trapping or out at spring muskrat camp. She said she hated school when she was little.
The little plane circled our village and then flew low over Andreson's store and waggled its wings at us. That was Sam White, the pilot, saying good-bye to us.
It was Sam White laughing, too. Sam thought nearly everything was funny. He had just landed with the mail and there the new teacher was, waiting for him when he opened the door of the cockpit. She pushed right through the rest of us and started talking before Sam even got to say hello.
"Wait for me, it will only take a minute," she'd said. "Please. Take me back to town. I can't stay in this place for another second."
And he'd waited, and she'd come tumbling out of her little cabin, leaving the door open, leaving everything behind but the two suitcases she carried. It was kind of funny, how she looked. I could tell Sam thought so, the way he winked at us. And then Sam had helped her into the plane and the engine had roared and they were up and over the spruce trees and on their way.
I knew what she would tell Sam. She'd tell how Amy Barrington had got mad and had busted in her door because the teacher bought mukluks from Julia Pitka instead of her. And she'd tell about the big boys who didn't listen. And she'd tell about the fish.
When we brought our lunch to school, it would always be fish. Salmon strips or kk'oontseek, dried fish eggs, to eat on pilot crackers. Or half-dried fish. The oil would get on the little kids' faces and on the desks.
"Heavens, don't you ever eat anything but fish?" And she'd make us go to the basin and try to scrub the fish smell away with lots of Fels Naptha soap, and then with a bad face she'd scrub the oily ring from the washbasin.
That one time, she pushed Plasker away from her desk when she was helping him with his arithmetic.
"You smell of fish," she said, real mad, with her teeth together. Plasker looked scared.
"I was helping my old man bale whitefish," he said. He was pretty nervous, wiping his hands on his pants as if that would help.
The teacher told him to sit down, and she didn't even help him with his arithmetic. There were tears in her eyes. Right there we knew she was not going to stay with us.
We had a whole bunch of teachers since they started the school here, back when I was six. Some left before the year was over. Some stayed one whole school year. But none ever came back after the summer.
Sometimes we could see the look on their faces the first week they were here, cleaning out their little cabin, putting up pictures on the walls. The ones who looked mean from the very first lasted the longest. It was the ones who smiled all the time and pretended to like everything who didn't last.
Maybe they were running out of teachers and we wouldn't get another one.
But in just a week Sam brought us a new teacher.
I was helping Old Man Andreson in the store when Sam came in. It was my job to cross off every day on the calendar with an X so Old Man Andreson wouldn't get mixed up and forget what day it was. And it was the first day of a new month, so I had to tear that last month off, too. October 1, it was now -- 1948.
Sam was really big and tall, and when I was little, he always used to lift me up and make my head touch the ceiling. Now I was too big for that, so he just stuck me on top of the counter.
"Fred! I brought you a new teacher. I kidnapped her. What do you think about that?"
I had a bad feeling about that, so I asked him, "Is she nice?"
"Oh-ho," said Sam. "This one's got a little mileage. You kids are not going to get away with nothin'."
That didn't sound like she was going to be nice, so I wiggled down off the counter.
I wanted to go have a look at her.
Copyright © 2000 by Kirkpatrick Hill
The Year of Miss Agnes
Ten-year-old Frederika (Fred for short) doesn't have much faith that the new teacher in town will last very long. After all, they never do. Most teachers who come to their one-room schoolhouse in remote, Alaska leave at the first smell of fish, claiming that life there is just too hard.
But Miss Agnes is different -- she doesn't get frustrated with her students, and she throws away old textbooks and reads Robin Hood instead! For the first time, Fred and her classmates begin to enjoy their lessons and learn to read and write -- but will Miss Agnes be like all the rest and leave as quickly as she came?
- Margaret K. McElderry Books |
- 128 pages |
- ISBN 9780689851247 |
- May 2002 |
- Grades 4 - 6 |
- Lexile 790L
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
Ten-year-old Fred (Frederika) tells the story of school and village life among the Athabascans in Alaska during 1948 when Miss Agnes arrives to be yet another new teacher.
Schools; Teachers; Alaska; Indians of North America
• Why didn't Fred's mother think school was important?
• Why do you think teachers always wanted to leave the village?
• What are some differences between Fred's school day and yours? Are there any similarities?
• The book is dedicated to Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Research this person.
• Research the Native American groups of Alaska and chart them on a map of Alaska.
• Study the American Sign Language alphabet. Learn signs for words significant to this story.
This reading group guide is for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Prepared by Diana Enriquez, Quinton Heights Elementary
© William Allen White Children's Book Award
Please visit http://www.emporia.edu/libsv/wawbookaward/ for more information about the awards and to see curriculum guides for other master list titles. see more