If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it. You know August. The corn is earring. The tomatoes are ripening on the vine. The clover's in full bloom. There's a little less evening now, and that's a warning. You want to live every day twice over because you'll be back in the jailhouse of school before the end of the month. Then our teacher, Miss Myrt Arbuckle, hauled off and died. It was like a miracle, though she must have been forty. You should have seen my kid brother's face. It looked like Lloyd was hearing the music of the spheres. Being ten that summer, he was even more willing to believe in miracles than I was.The Teacher's Funeral is my favorite, favorite, favorite Richard Peck novel. It is one of my favorite historical fiction books. I loved the humor. I loved the writing--the narration. One humorous incident after another, just more and more to love. I also loved the characters. I loved Russell, the narrator. I loved his sister, Tansy. I loved their Dad who was oh-so-wise. I loved Charlie, Russell's best friend, and it was fun to see Glenn Tarbox as well. I was cheering for him through the book! But one of my FAVORITE, FAVORITE characters, and probably secretly the reason I ADORE the book so very, very much is LITTLE BRITCHES (aka Beulah).
This historical fiction novel is set in 1904. Most of the action occurs in a one room school house. The teacher is Russell's OLDER sister. Russell had been hoping--dreaming really--that since their teacher literally died a day or two before school was to start, that there would be NO MORE SCHOOL. He was dreaming of FREEDOM. What he got, of course, is his sister for a teacher. A sister who could see through him, who knew him backwards and forwards, and could tell when he was TROUBLE. He can do pranks, sure enough, but she always knows it was HIM and she punishes him.
This one has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. And there is a lovely audio book edition of it as well.
My first review October 2006. My second review March 2011.
This was the night me and Lloyd always went to the crick and camped out. It was a sacred part of our year. After the Case Special came through, we always spent that night at the crick, and hung on till morning, no matter what. It was how we kissed the summer goodbye before the darkness of learning fell about us. (13)
"Who died?" I inquired.
"Take a guess," Charlie said. "Go ahead."
"Somebody we know?"
"You can believe that."
"Somebody old or young?"
"Old," Charlie said, "as the hills."
Lloyd was looking back and forth between us, clutching J.W. He was on the hook again, and I was getting there.
"Old as Old Man Lichtenberger?"
"Nobody's that old," Charlie said.
"Man or woman?"
"That'd be tellin' too much."
"Somebody we like?"
"Not hardly," Charlie said.
"Somebody who's been feeling poorly late?" I was wracking my brains.
Charlie shrugged his big shoulders. "She must of felt pretty poorly tonight. She died."
"So it's a woman!"
"More or less," Charlie said.
The truth burst over me. "You don't mean Miss Myrt Arbuckle!" (24)
Nobody would miss Miss Myrt, so Preacher Parr got them to miss the good old days when the winters were worse and the kids were better. At a funeral you want to miss something. (39)
When Pearl came back, she had a grip on the little kid who didn't want to be anywhere near here. Her bonnet hung by its strings. Her dinner pail scraped the floor. She kept setting her bare heels. "Turn me loose," she squawked. "I don't wanna, and I'm not gonna!"
Pearl pushed her toward Tansy and resumed her seat.
Tansy pulled the small girl's skirttails free of her drawers and settled her skirts for her. But it was too late. Forever more, she was known as "Little Britches." Even unto the distant day of her wedding. Besides, come to find out her real name was Beulah.
"Who are you?" Tansy asked with an arm around her.
"I ain't sayin'," said Little Britches. "I ain't stayin'."
"Then whisper who you are in my ear before you go."
Little Britches whispered. It would turn out that she was a Bradley. They were a family who hadn't had anybody in school for some years. Little Britches was an afterthought. "I'm goin' on home now." She wiggled free of Tansy. "Pleased to meetcha."
"Well, you can go home at noon, Tansy told her. "Till then just wait up there at my desk. You can...help me be teacher." (80-1)
"Tansy, how come the female sex think they know more than the male sex?"
"Because we do. What's the capital of Delaware?"
"I don't know."
"Know by tomorrow," Tansy warned. "I'm the teacher, and I won't have dumb brothers." (107)
I thought we'd need a block and tackle to lift her. But getting Aunt Fanny Hamline out of the ditch became one of Tansy's most famous days of teaching. It was a lesson in engineering too. It should have been studied at Purdue University. (127)
© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews