The Secret School

The Secret School

by Avi

Paperback(First Edition)

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More than anything, Ida Bidson wants to become a teacher. To do that, she must finish eighth grade, then go on to high school. But her dream falters when the one-room school in her remote Colorado town shuts down. Her only hope is to keep the school open without anyone finding out. Yet even a secret school needs a teacher. Ida can't be it. . . . Or can she?
In the spirit of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Newbery Medal winner Avi creates an inspiring story of a headstrong girl determined to control her own destiny.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152046996
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 08/01/2003
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 117,146
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 610L (what's this?)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

AVI has written more than fifty acclaimed novels for middle grade and teen readers, including the Newbery Medal-winning Crispin: The Cross of Lead and two Newbery Honor winners. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Date of Birth:

December 23, 1937

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964

Read an Excerpt


ON A COOL MONDAY morning in early April 1925, Ida Bidson, aged fourteen, carefully guided her family's battered Model T Ford along a narrow, twisting dirt road in Elk Valley, Colorado.

"Brake and clutch!" she shouted.

Ida, only four-feet-eleven and unable to reach the floor of the car, knelt on the torn seat and gripped the steering wheel tightly. Her seven-year-old brother, Felix, hunched on the floor before her and used his hands to push the brake and clutch pedals down.

As Ida adjusted the throttle lever, the battered car, hiccuping like a damp firecracker, swung into a sharp turn. "Less brake!" Ida called.

"Where we at?" Felix called up as he leaned onto the right pedal.

"It's 'Where are we?'" his older sister corrected.

"You're not my teacher! Just tell me!"

"We're close. Less brake!"

The car bumped along, causing the old tin syrup can filled with their lunch to bounce on the seat beside Ida. Behind them, dust twirled out like an unraveling rope, momentarily hiding the high ring of snowcapped mountains that surrounded the valley.

As the car churned up a hill-with enough backfiring to suggest a small war had erupted-Ida caught sight of Tom Kohl and his younger sister, Mary, riding bareback on their mule, Ruckus. Best friends, Ida and Tom were forever talking about all kinds of things: their plans, their friends, their families, what was going on in the valley.

Seeing him, Ida grinned, reached over the door-the car had no windows-and squeezed
the horn bulb attached to the outside of the car. Honnnk! Honnnk!

At the loud gooselike sound, Ruckus gave a little buck. Though startled, Tom skillfully reined the mule to the side of the road, then turned around and pushed his floppy flaxen hair out of his eyes. Seeing Ida's slow-moving car, he smiled and yelled, "Get yourself a mule!"

"Join the twentieth century!" she shouted back.

"Who's there?" Felix called from the floor.

"Tom and Mary. Now pay attention. We're almost there. Brake easy!"

The car finally rounded the last bend, bringing Elk Valley's schoolhouse into view. The building stood in the middle of its own small north-south valley, through which the dirt road ran. To the east low hills gave way to higher ground, woods, and mountains. West it was much the same. Squat and square, the school building had a pitched roof and a small bell steeple at the south end. The painted but peeling white clapboard walls had three windows on each side. Beyond the school stood two privies, one for boys and one for girls. To the south was a small shallow pond. In front of the school stood a flagpole not far from a water pump as well as a lopsided teeter-totter.

"Clutch to neutral and brake!" Ida shouted as she aimed the car toward its regular parking place, only to realize that another car-one she didn't recognize-was already there.

"Hold on!" Ida screamed. With all her strength, she turned the wheel hard about, then yelled, "Brake!" as she grabbed the hand lever and pulled back.

Barely avoiding a crash, the old Ford came to a lurching halt next to the other car. Its motor gave one more enormous backfire, sputtered, chuffed twice, then died with a shuddering sigh.

"We're here," Ida announced. Her heart was pounding.

"What happened?" Felix asked.

"Another car was parked in our spot. I almost
hit it."

"Whose car?"

"Don't know."

Ida tightened the brake, then untied the rope that held the side door shut. With a squeak it swung open. "Out you go!" she called.

Felix, crawling headfirst, slipped down to the ground.

"I hate this," he complained as he stretched his arms and legs.

"Beats walking five miles both ways," Ida said as she got out and looked toward the school. She brushed the dust from her braided brown hair and checked to see if her blue ribbons were still tied tightly. Then she smoothed down her gingham dress. Of all the dresses her mother had made for her, this was her favorite.

Herbert Bixler, Charley and Susie Spool, and Natasha Golobin were seated on the school's front porch. As Ida and Felix approached, they all looked up.

"Looky here!" Herbert shouted gleefully. "I'm back!"

"And he's already tried to tie my shoelaces together," Susie complained.

Herbert lifted one of his bare feet and wiggled his toes. "Guess I don't know much about how shoes work," he said.

Ida ignored him. "Whose car is that?" she asked.

Natasha, who was a year younger than Ida, replied, "Mr. Jordan's."

Mr. Jordan was the owner-operator of Wally's Mighty Fine Emporium, Elk Valley's feed and grocery store. He was also head of the school board.

"Guess he can park anywhere he wants," Ida acknowledged. "How come he's here?"

Herbert shrugged. "Dunno."

"Is Miss Fletcher here?" Felix asked.

"Inside," Charley assured them. Charley and Susie, who lived just over the hill, were always the first to get to school.

"What's Mr. Jordan's car doing here?" Tom called as he slid off Ruckus, then helped his sister down. "He come for inspection?" As always, Tom tied the mule to the rear bumper of the Bidsons' car with enough rope to allow for grazing.

"No one knows," Ida replied.

Just then the schoolhouse door opened and Miss Fletcher appeared. A slight, middle-aged woman with dark hair piled atop her head, she was dressed in a simple blue cotton dress.

"Children," she said, "come in quickly, please. There's grave news to share."

The children exchanged puzzled looks.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Herbert muttered as soon as Miss Fletcher went back in.

"Shhh!" Ida hissed at him. "Don't sass!"

Felix said, "She didn't even say her regular 'Good morning.'"

Natasha added, "Wasn't even smiling."

"Guess we better get ourselves in and see," Tom said, always the logical one.

Without another word, the children climbed up the porch stairs and filed inside.

The school had but one room. Built entirely of wood from the nearby Columbine lumber mill, the building was twenty years old. Most of the room was filled with ancient low benches and long student desks etched with countless initials. The desks were older than the school building. To the right of the front door was the boys' wardrobe. On the other side was the girls'. Miss Fletcher's desk stood on the left, close to a small wall-mounted blackboard, which at the moment was perfectly clean.

An aspen switch-for discipline-hung alongside the board. Next to that was the school's library, a small bookcase containing some fifteen tattered books plus a few old magazines.

A round, iron wood-burning stove stood to the right, opposite the teacher's desk. Kerosene lamps were fastened on each wall along with pictures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and a chart of the Palmer script alphabet. There were also pull-down maps of Colorado, the United States, and the rest of the world.

As Miss Fletcher stood by the door, the eight students put away their lunch pails and their coats, then took their regular seats at their desks.

Felix and Mary, who were first and second graders, sat up front. Ida and Tom, the only eighth graders, took their places in the back row. Ida, being short, fit easily. Tom, tall and skinny, had to stretch out to get his knees to fit. The other four children-fourth through seventh graders-were scattered about on the other benches.

Mr. Jordan was standing in a corner going through Miss Fletcher's school account book. He was a portly, red-faced man, wearing overalls and a blue shirt. He had left his straw hat on the teacher's desk, something the children would never be allowed to do.

Ida, using a trick she had mastered long ago, faced front but whispered to Tom without moving her lips. "Why do you think he's here?"

"Don't know," Tom replied in the same stealthy fashion. "My old man says he's as miserly as a sleeping marmot."

Ida dipped her head to hide her grin.

Miss Fletcher stood before her desk, hands clasped, an unconvincing smile on her face.

"Good morning, children," the teacher began in her soft voice. "I'm so very glad the whole school's in attendance. Even you, Herbert Bixler."

Herbert roused himself from his slouch. "Miss Fletcher, it's my dad. He's always needing me to work. Weren't for him, I'd be sitting here every day being a high-marks scholar."

"Well, yes, we shan't discuss that now," Miss Fletcher replied. Composing herself, she looked down, then up at the class.

"Children," she began, "as I'm sure most of you know, this is Mr. Jordan, head of our local school board. Please greet him politely."

"Good-morning-Mister-Jordan," the children chorused.

"This morning," Miss Fletcher went on, "I'm afraid I must share painful news with you."

The children sat up stiffly.

"Last Friday," she continued, "I received a telegram telling me that my mother, back east in Iowa, has become very ill."

"Oh no!" Felix said loudly.

"Naturally," Mr. Jordan cut in, "Miss Fletcher needs to be there. And since there's only a month and a half till term ends, the school board won't be looking for a replacement. As soon as she departs..." He turned to the teacher. "When's that going to be, Miss Fletcher?"

"I'll be taking the Wednesday train," she replied.

"After which," Mr. Jordan continued, "school will be closed. And it won't commence till the fall term, assuming, of course, we can hire us up a new teacher."

Ida and Tom exchanged looks of shock.

Mr. Jordan went on. "This means you can have one long summer vacation. I'm sure," he chortled, "that despite our sorrow at losing Miss Fletcher, that'll cheer you up."

Tom raised a hand.

"Yes, Tom?" Miss Fletcher said.

"I'm awful sorry for your trouble, Miss Fletcher. I truly am. But does that mean Ida and I won't be taking our exit exams?"

Miss Fletcher started to speak but held back. Instead she looked to Mr. Jordan for the answer.

"Exit exams? Well...," he said after a moment's thought, "we could hardly get us a new teacher on such short notice. So, yes, I guess your exams will have to wait till next year."

Ida lifted her hand.

"Yes, Ida?" Miss Fletcher said.

"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."

Miss Fletcher turned to Mr. Jordan. "I'm afraid that what Ida is saying is correct," she said. "They can't move on without those tests."

"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'd 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 questions?" Mr. Jordan asked, looking around the room.

Humiliated, Ida shrank down.

No one dared say anything else.

After shaking hands with Miss Fletcher, Mr. Jordan left.

The children gazed at Miss Fletcher.

"Miss Fletcher...," Ida said, on the verge of tears.

"Yes, Ida?"

"I...I am grieved for you and your mother. But you know how much I want to be a teacher. I have to graduate this year. This is my one chance. What am I supposed to do?"

Miss Fletcher sighed. "Ida," she said, "I want you to know I begged Mr. Jordan not to close down the school. As for your exam and graduation-and Tom's-I can't rightly say what will happen. I...I will be gone. I am so sorry."

Silence filled the room.

"In the meanwhile," Miss Fletcher said softly, "we had best skip our morning song and get on with today's lessons." Quickly, she gave out the assignments.

The other children pulled out books and papers and began to work. Ida, sitting in numb silence, stared before her. All she was aware of was an enormous pain in her chest.

Copyright © 2001 by Avi

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

A shorter version of this novel was published in newspapers
throughout the country as part of the Breakfast Serials program.

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The Secret School 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Sonya1999 More than 1 year ago
One day Miss.Fletcher (the teacher) leaves the town to go take care of her mom. The school is only one room and one teacher. The school would have to be closed.The students dont want school to end so they were thinking Ida, a 14 year old girl, should be the teacher and you'll have to find out the rest when you read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that is interesting because it describes a one room school and living in the past. But the adventure and excitement is missing. It can be read from cover to cover if you are determined.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson's dream is to become a teacher. But in her remote, poverty-stricken region of Colorado, most dreams don't come true, and those that do take hard work, devotion, and sometimes, just plain luck. But luck seems to be going against Ida when, two months before the end of the term, the teacher must leave to care for her sick mother. Stingy Mr. Jordan, the head of the school board, refuses to hire a teacher this close to the end of the school year. So Ida takes it upon herself to be the teacher, and run the school in secret, so that she can graduate eighth grade and be eligible to attend high school in the fall. But what will happen to Ida and her students if their secret school is discovered? This was a wonderful historical novel about one girl's determination to do whatever it takes to make her hopes and dreams come true.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book ever and I highly reccomend it. It is so exciting and a page-turner big time. I highly recommend it. You should read it!!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
OUTSTANDING! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great book that doesn't take very long. I absolutely loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very good I read it awhile ago but I still remember it. This is about Ida who wants to become a teacher and then she finally gets to be one. I reccomend this book to anyone who likes to read. Have Fun
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is not overly creative, but is shows how kids can make a difference through their actions, and that their work, especially school work, is not entirely pointless.
Guest More than 1 year ago
~*~i thought that this book was fantastic! it was great book cuz i've alwaiz been interested in that time period and i've alwaiz wanted 2 b a teacher~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wish it was longer. I couldnt srop reading. I have actually read it about five times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was leaving me hanging of my seat
Kaydence on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Avi is one of the authors that I always expect great things from, and I am never disappointed when I read one of his books. The Secret School is about a fourth grade reading level, but perfect for a class that I teach of struggling readers. This quick read (about 150 pages, but larger print than normal) is about a valley of farmer's children that go to school in a one room schoolhouse. Their teacher is leaving because her mother is ill and the school board has decided to close the school. Then a student (Tom) decides that they could continue going to school if one of the other students (Ida) becomes the teacher. After a night of thinking about it, Ida decides that if the whole class agrees on it, then she will take over as teacher. The only thing is, they can't let the school board know, so the secret school is born. Ida learns that it is difficult becoming the teacher, as well as studying herself and working on the farm, but for the most part everything goes well, until... I'm sure that you can figure out some of the problems that erupt when you have a secret school, but you'll have to read the story to find out more. All in all, this is a great book that can get student's thinking about what it was like when everyone went to school in the same room regardless of age. There are lessons about motivation and helping one another as well. As a teacher, I would encourage others to take a deeper look at what it would be like if we were not forced to get an education. I think that if our students begin to really look at what privileges they have now, they might not be so upset when they have to get up in the morning or do their homework. Also, there are tons of history lessons that can pop up from discussing this book. It's a small book but can lead off to greater things. I highly recommend it to beginning novel readers, struggling older readers, or teachers that want something quick and sweet to start off their units.
caro488 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
teacher leaves in the middle of the term, Ida wants to finish 8th grade so she can go on to high school, so the kids continue to arrive and study and leave, with the hep of the class troublemaker.
srssrs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is another great book by Avi. What is best about Avi is his ability to write in so many genres. This fiction pieces is set out west in the 1920s and is about children in a rural area fighting to get an education when the real teacher is called away for the rest of the term. The motley group of children vote the smartest 8th grader in as teacher and agree to keep their experiment in education a secret. Avi does a great job in keeping the reader engaged in what could have been a very dull book. However, Avi has great skill in character development, and never leaves the reader frustrated by a slow plot or static characters.
Noelleon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The secoret school.It starts when theres these girl named Ida and her little brother Felix they started driving through town to get to school felix is pushing down on the peddels whill ida is driving.I dont want to give the story away so I will real want you totry to read it I will realy recomended it.
DD450 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was a good book to me.It was funny when the car went into the ditch and they got all muddy.I liked when she became a privite teacher at a secret school and know body new.I also liked when the school board lady came in and almost closed the school.The muel got into the school.And to find out other events you will have to read the book The School Story by AVI
wade33 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a kind of a good book.This book is about this girl who is 14 and teaches at a secret school.Also,know one knows about it.
ElCa0720 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
School gets shut down in a twon because the town can't afford it any more. The oldest student who is one year away from graduating steps up and becomes the teachers for all of the younger kids. They secretly run a school and are hoping not to get caught. This book is really cute. I enjoyed it.
kelley12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ida wants to get to high school but she can not because the school is shutting down. So she trys to be the teacher. but it does not work out with her eing in school and being teacher and having crushes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Avi is such good writer
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Used this book for 4th & 5th graders book club, they liked he book, its life lesson and the story line itself.