Village School (Fairacre #1). Miss Read. Houghton Mifflin Books (2001) (First Published 1955). 239 pages. Genre: Fiction.
First Line: "The first day of term has a flavour that is all its own; a whiff of lazy days behind and a foretaste of the busy future."
Summary: Miss Read is schoolmistress of Fairacre school. She shares the task with Miss Clare, who is in charge of the youngest children. Village school introduces the reader to the village of Fairacre, the students, the families, the daily lives and the celebrations that make them who they are. By the end of the book we will have gone through an entire school year with this cast of characters.
My thoughts: While this is a work of fiction, it is heavily influenced by the author's experiences teaching in a school similar to the one in Fairacre. The book begins at the beginning by helping the reader understand the details and rhythms of a day in the life of the school. We get a glimpse into Miss Read's morning routine before the students arrive. She lives in the little house on the school property, so her commute is not long. Mrs. Pringle arrives at the school before Miss Read and to clean and tidy the school for the arrival of the children. However, she can never seem to get the fire going when it is really cold and always has some excuse, usually having to do with her "poor leg".
The first few chapters are full of domestic details and if you are not someone who enjoys that type of thing, you might find this part a bit tedious. I love domestic details and really enjoyed this part of the book. Once the reader is oriented to the school itself and the rhythm of the day, the book becomes a series of vignettes following the school year. There are misunderstandings and illnesses. There are tests and concerts to prepare for. There are outings and new students to welcome. But through it all, there is a sense of peace and coziness.
Miss Read is a wonderful character who loves her students and thinks of them as family. Miss Clare has been teaching for over 40 years. She is a little strict and efficient, but her students love her and feel secure in her room. Mrs. Pringle is a cantankerous woman, but is quite soft-hearted underneath it all. Miss Read has figured out how to manage her and does it expertly. Reverend Partridge is the vicar of Fairacre and is in charge of the school. He is gentle and sometimes vague, but he is always kind and enjoys teaching the children hymns.
I really enjoy Miss Read's writing style. I have read a few books in the Thrush Green series, but I think I enjoyed this one just a little more. I felt like I got a glimpse into what a day in the life of a village schoolteacher was like in midcentury England. Not only that, but the characters are well-developed and likeable. They are people I want to know more about. If you are looking for a cozy read full of domestic details you can't go wrong with Village School.
"On this first morning of term Miss Clare had already arrived when I walked over at a quarter to nine. Her bicycle, as upright and ancient as its owner, was propped just inside the lobby door."
"'You hear that man?' he whispered. 'He swored!'"
"Mrs. Roberts, with true farmhouse hospitality, threw open her great kitchen, and sizzling sausages and hard-boiled eggs and hot dripping toast were offered to the hungry skaters, with beer or cocoa to wash down the welcome food."