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The Year of Miss Agnes

by Kirkpatrick Hill
113 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Indigo

A gentle but rich story with appealing characters.

Plot

Ten-year-old Fred (Frederika) and the other Athabascan children of her town in the Alaska wilderness have seen teachers come and go. The kids are so isolated, and their education so spotty, that when Miss Agnes says she’s English, Fred doesn’t realize that there’s a place called England. Unlike other teachers who can’t get used to the back country, Miss Agnes has worked in the region for years. She brings new books, introduces the kids to classical music and colored pencils, and brings each child out according to his or her aptitude. This book shows the way an inspired teacher can broaden children’s horizons while treating their way of life respectfully.

Morality

The young narrator briefly mentions the fact that one of the men in the community has been unfaithful to his wife. Nothing graphic is stated. On the positive side, by and large, people look out for one another in this hardscrabble community. The best role model of moral behavior is Miss Agnes. She helps her students in large ways and small. For example, when Pete must leave school early to accompany his family to a remote campsite to check traplines, Miss Agnes accelerates the reading of Pete’s favorite book, 'Robin Hood,' so he’ll know how it ends.

Spiritual Content

There is no overt spiritual content. The children prepare to celebrate Christmas, and several families go to another community, where there is a church, for Christmas services.

Violence

This low-key story contains no direct violence. The narrator alludes to hunting, trapping, and shooting, the livelihoods of most of the families in this traditional community.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Sexual Content

The above-mentioned remark about the man who had “another girlfriend.” Also, Fred says that she doesn’t want to “have babies…and marry some boy.”

Crude or Profane Language or Content

None.

Conclusion

This book tells a quiet story. Its charm lies in the narrator’s clear rendering of a way of life most readers have probably never encountered, and in the portrait of a gifted teacher. Miss Agnes shows the students their first microscope, writes individual stories for each child to motivate the love of learning, and teaches them all sign language so that Fred’s deaf sister, Bokko, can finally communicate with the world. The author, herself a longtime teacher in Alaska’s back country, is doubtless writing about things and people she loves from her own life.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4.5
Written for Age: 8-10

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