The Secret SchoolTitle: The Secret School
Author: Avi
ISBN: 015204699
Pages: 157 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt, c2001.

“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.” …
“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 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?” Mr. Jordan asked, looking around the room. (10-11)

Fourteen year old Ida Bidson is devastated when her teacher, Miss Fletcher, is forced to leave school before the end of the term due to her mother’s illness. Sure this means that school is getting out a month and a half early, but that also means that Ida and her classmate Tom can’t take the entrance exams to get into high school next year. They’ll have to repeat the entire year all over again when the one-room, remote Colorado schoolhouse gets a new teacher next fall. Ida and Tom feel hopeless, until Tom suggests that Ida secretly assumes the role of teacher so the exams can be administered. But when the school board finds out about it, does it spell the end of all the work Ida has done?

I absolutely love Avi’s writing, but this book was a little slower paced than some of his other successes. Ida is realistic though, shouldering responsibilities that overburden her. She’s expected to do her farm chores, make lesson plans, grade everyone else’s homework, and self teach herself what she needs to in order to graduate. While I wish there was a little more description on what and how the students learned, it’s fun to imagine how life would be. For some strange and inexplicable reason, I found myself thinking about Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix, probably because it also features a one-room school house at the beginning. However, I feel the two books are geared for a different audience.