The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts

The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts

by Richard Peck

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If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it," begins Richard Peck's latest novel, a book full of his signature wit and sass. Russell Culver is fifteen in 1904, and he's raring to leave his tiny Indiana farm town for the endless sky of the Dakotas. To him, school has been nothing but a chain holding him back from his dreams. Maybe now that his teacher has passed on, they'll shut the school down entirely and leave him free to roam.

No such luck. Russell has a particularly eventful season of schooling ahead of him, led by a teacher he never could have predicted-perhaps the only teacher equipped to control the likes of him: his sister Tansy. Despite stolen supplies, a privy fire, and more than any classroom's share of snakes, Tansy will manage to keep that school alive and maybe, just maybe, set her brother on a new, wiser course.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101200483
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/20/2006
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 305,968
Lexile: 750L (what's this?)
File size: 503 KB
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

RICHARD PECK (1934-2018) was born in Decatur, Illinois and lived in New York City for nearly 50 years. The acclaimed author of 35 novels for children and young adults, he won the Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, a Newbery Honor for A Long Way from Chicago, the Scott O’Dell Award for The River Between Us, the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Are You in the House Alone?, a Boston Globe-Horn BookAward Honor for The Best Man, and the Christopher Medal for The Teacher’s Funeral. He was the first children’s author ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal, and was twice a National Book Award Finalist.  

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


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.

You couldn't deny Miss Myrt Arbuckle was past her prime. She was hard of hearing in one ear, no doubt deafened by her own screaming. And she couldn't whup us like she wanted to. She was a southpaw for whupping, and she had arthritis in that elbow, so while she could still whup, it didn't make much of an impression.  

Back in the spring when she called up Lester Kriegbaum for some infraction, nothing serious, he brought a book to the front of the room and read it over her knee while she larruped away at his far end.

So when you get right down to it, if you can't hear and you can't whup, you're better off dead than teaching. That's how I looked at it.

There was always talk about shutting down Hominy Ridge School anyhow. Now that me and Lloyd saw its end might be nigh, hope broke over us. It was surely too late to find another teacher who'd teach in a place like that.

Hominy Ridge was nothing but an out-of-date, unimproved, one-room country schoolhouse in the backwoodsiest corner of Indiana. They admitted it didn't pay to keep it just for us straggle of kids who went there.

Dad was on the school board. Me and Lloyd hoped to encourage him to close down the school and drive all formal education out of this part of Parke County. For one thing, I'd been fifteen since winter and still hadn't passed the eighth-grade graduation exam.  

Besides, I had me a dream, and school only stood in my way.

"Russell, will they have a funeral for Miss Myrt?" Lloyd looked up at me, wondering.

"Of course they'll have a funeral for her," I said. "Did you think they'd just feed her to the hogs?"

But I know how Lloyd thought. Regular people have funerals, but Miss Myrt was a teacher. As for a funeral, it was hot weather and the crops were in the ground and the roads were dry and the fair was over. "What else do people have to do?" I said. "They'll turn out for Miss Myrt."

"They better," Lloyd said darkly. "She's liable to set up in her coffin and take roll."

Chapter Two

The Best Boys in the World

How we learned that Miss Myrt Arbuckle had turned up her toes gets ahead of the story. This news didn't reach us till almost midnight, and then under dramatic circumstances.

But it had been a red-letter day anyhow, the main day of the year for me, better than the 4 th of July. It was the day the J.I. Case Company of Racine, Wisconsin, sent their special train down through Indiana. We'd watched for the flyers announcing it all summer. My heart was in my mouth that Dad wouldn't let us go.

The Case Special came through every August with flatcars of the latest in steam engines and threshing machines. It was better than a circus. Every man and boy from twenty miles around converged on Montezuma to see the Case Special. I walked the floor all night for fear Dad would keep us in the field. I hadn't figured out he wouldn't have missed the Case Special himself.

Me and Lloyd were up ahead of the chickens. We worked a seven-day week anyway, even in this quiet season. As Dad said, the only man who got his work done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe. And we were a corn, wheat, hay, and hogs farm in a never-ending round of chores, plus the milking. Today me and Lloyd were a pair of whirlwinds--two tornadoes back and forth to the barn a dozen times before breakfast. And it was already hot enough to fry your brains through your hat.

Then we pulled cockleburs out of the corn into the heat of the day. Cockleburs have two seeds that mature at different times, so you have to kill them twice. All the while, one cricket after another walked in under our hickory shirts on bobwire legs and made life a misery. Still, we worked ahead of Dad all morning, the best boys in the world, and Dad never let on that he knew why.

You talk about hot. They don't make Augusts like that anymore. An old horsethief from just over in Putnam County died and went down to Hades. And he sent back for a blanket. That's the kind of heat we were used to. At long last we heard the dinner bell sound from the house.

When we came to the end of the row, we saw Dad up in the lot, bent over the horse trough. He wasn't just washing a little bit for the dinner table. He was washing his whole top half. That meant he was fixing to go to town. Lloyd was ready to rip out a whoop, but I put a lid on him. We weren't there yet.

I thought if we had to take the time to sit down to dinner, we'd be too late to see the Case Special come in. But the hand that rang the dinner bell was our sister Tansy's. And if she cooked, you sat and ate it.

Tansy was named for a wildflower, which suited her because she was as countrified and rawboned as me and Lloyd, almost. She was our big sister--great big, and she loomed over our lives.

"Let's see those hands." Tansy gave the back of my head a painful thump. There was no arthritis in her elbows. She had a pancake turner in her other hand, so I showed her my palms.

"Well, I see where you've been," she remarked, and she didn't mean the trough. She passed along to Lloyd. "You should have left more of the field where it was," said she after a look at his paws.

"We washed," Lloyd whined. I had the sense to keep quiet. "We washed in the trough, same as Dad."

Dad obliged by turning up his palms, but Tansy thought Lloyd deserved the same thump she'd given me. She was fair that way. "Ow!" Lloyd exclaimed.

  "Do you have such a thing as a lump of soap down at the trough?" Tansy inquired.

"No," said Lloyd, who never learned. "It'd gag the horses. They'd foam at the mouth."

Dad gazed out the door and down the corn rows, trying not to smile.

"Now I see your neck and ears," Tansy told Lloyd, "I'm gagging myself."

"Let'em be so they can eat," Aunt Maud called out from the stove. I was wolfing it down already, crazy to head for town. But we had a good big dinner to get through first: chicken-fried steak, boiled potatoes and cream gravy, a platter of dead-ripe, deep red beefsteak tomatoes, and a pyramid of pickled peaches in the cut-glass dish. We were being force-fed last year's pickled peaches to make way for this year's.

Aunt Maud pulled down the oven door and drew out a sheet of her drop biscuits. Dad's thorny hand covered his eyes. Aunt Maud was the worst baker in the United States. You couldn't use her dough balls for bait.

She was no better a cook. We lived for summer because Tansy was home to do most of the cooking for us. In the fall she went back to board in town, to go to the high school. Why Tansy needed to go to high school was another of life's mysteries to me.

"Pie's pretty nearly baked!" she declared. "Who wants a slab?" But by then Lloyd was halfway to the back door, and Dad was right on his heels.

We hitched up Siren and Stentor to the spring wagon and off we went along the boiling roads. Somehow we made it to town with minutes to spare. It beat me why Tansy and Aunt Maud didn't want to go.

"Gawk at a bunch of implements in the Montezuma railroad yard with all those cinders underfoot?" Tansy said. "I thank you, no."

It occurred to me even that early in life that there's not much romance in a woman's soul. The very names of the big steam threshers turned my heart over: the Geiser Peerless, the Minnesota Little Giant, the Avery Yellow Fellow, the Pitts Challenger, the Frick Eclipse.

Finally our wagon was in a row with others, down the hill into town. This was the biggest crowd we saw from one year to the next. An acre of wagons drew up by the depot. Two hundred straw hats bobbed against the punishing sun, and not a bonnet among us.

This is how I pictured Indianapolis, this crush of humankind with nary a familiar face. I looked for my best friend, Charlie Parr, but didn't see him. Of course he could have been an arm's length away, and I wouldn't know. You could scarcely draw breath, and not every farmer had stopped by the trough on the way here.

Then in the farthest distance we heard a trill. It was the steam calliope on the Case Special, flinging a tune to the four winds. The sound of music coming down the tracks made every hair on my head stand up. Though he was too big to hold my hand, Lloyd had me in a grip. It was the Case Special.

Smoke billowed, and the whistle screamed as the train roared in. The shrieking brakes set, and live steam singed our bare feet. On the car past the calliope a Farmer's Friend wind stacker blew out circulars and handbills instead of chaff. Paper and then tin buttons with the Case eagle on them rained over us.

Now we were waiting for Uncle Sam and the Gold Dust Twins because we wanted every year to be just like last year. As the calliope swung into "Marching Through Georgia," Uncle Sam unfolded himself out of the caboose. He stood over us, twelve feet tall in spangled top hat and stilts.

But we were lost to him. The Gold Dust Twins couldn't hold us either, even when they bucked-and-winged into "Under the Bamboo Tree" and threw soapy scouring pads for our womenfolk. A cloud passed, and the full glare of the sun fell on this year's 1904 models of the Case Agitator threshing machine.

They were steel.

Threshing machines had been wooden-sided from the beginning. But these monsters were sheet steel. We were blinded by their sheen. The twentieth century had found us at last, even here. We didn't know how to look at something so new. A lump formed in my throat.

Now Uncle Sam was calling somebody up out of the mob. An Agitator was fired up and steaming. Somebody was wanted to feed lumber into the rig to prove how rugged these new steel models were. If the Agitator could do this to hardwood, think what it could do to your wheat crop.

The face Uncle Sam lit upon was Charlie Parr's. He was older than me, though he hadn't passed the eighth-grade graduation examination either. He swung up on the flatcar and commenced feeding stove lengths into the Agitator. The sawdust blew a dry cloudburst over us.

My mind was miles away by then, up in the Dakotas. I caught a glimpse of me up there for the wheat harvest. I was working one of these all-steel Case Agitators across the thousand-mile fields, under endless sky. I saw me doing a man's work on a crew of men who'd logged all winter. I felt the chaff in my hair.

All I wanted was to be on a threshing crew, to be in the stubble fields on crisp mornings like the dawn of creation. When I'd get back after the harvest I couldn't tell you. How cold it got up there I didn't know. But that was my dream, and school stood between me and it.

Lloyd tightened his grip on me. He knew I was fixing to go, that in my heart I was already gone.

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The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honestly this might be the worst book I have ever read cover to cover. I really disliked the setting and found it boring and lame. Some of the important moments brought some action into this book but for every 1 good page of reading there were about 20 crammed with useless information and pointless details. If you do the math you’ll find that that means you’ll have about 9 and a half pages of good reading in this story which is absolutely terrible and means it is way lower than my standards and makes me question how this ever got to become a DCF book for young adults. The book also states on the cover that it is is a comedy told in three parts. I didn’t laugh once while reading this book which is a huge shame because the main reason I choose this book was because it said “comedy”. I think that the 3 and a half stars out of five rating on most websites is incredibly generous and I give 1 out of 5 stars as a rating on this book. In terms of recommendations I can’t think of anyone who would actually enjoy this book and I surely didn’t.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is AMAZING!! I love how it is. I would like for someone to write a second on of these books and make it a seres.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so funny, I ended up reading the first few chapters to my mother over the telephone. If you understand the dry wit of Mark Twain, this book will have you rolling on the floor.
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Russell Culver thinks it's a miracle at first - his meaner-than-a-snake schoolteacher drops dead right before school is ready to start. But it turns out that it's not the blessing he thought it would be. Who takes the teacher's place but his own bossy big sister Tansy? And since she's in charge, she's not about to take any lip from her younger brothers.He has to admit that she's working hard for her pay. She even visits the trashy Tarbox clan, trying to get one extra student for the school which will be the magic number eight they need to stay open. Russell's hopes are dashed when 16 year old Glen Tarbox shows up the first day of school. He can't read or write, but he's ready to learn. Especially if it means being closer to Miss Tansy.But Glen has a rival - Russell's best friend Charlie is sweet on the teacher, too. And so is city slicker Eugene from the auto company. But Tansy is set on keeping her school going, despite nasty pranks and a school inspection.This book was really funny in parts. I listened to it on tape, and I think that's the best way to read it. I loved the eulogy of Miss Myrt Arbuckle, the story of JW the dog's encounter with the porcupine, and the fire than nearly demolished the boy's privy. So funny! But it's also a wonderful slice of life of a small town and farm community in Indiana in 1904, when the train containing the latest farm equipment was the high point of the summer, better than the county fair, and when pig butchering was a community event. And at the end, the author came on saying it was dedicated to his 98 year old mother who attended just such a school in rural Indiana at the turn of the century. Great fun. 4.5 stars
Jadesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was cute. I enjoyed this story, it was simple but funny and entertaining. I would like to read more of Mr. Peck's books to see if they are as good.
ERMSMediaCenter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In rural Indiana, in 1904, fifteen-year-old Russell's dreams of quitting school and joining a wheat-threshing crew are disrupted when his older sister takes over the teaching of his one-room schoolhouse after mean old Myrt Arbuckle "hauls off and dies."
MrsHillReads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful book--had laugh-out-loud parts! My grandmother taught in a one-room school and parts of this book really rang true to her stories. I liked the characters and really cared about them by the time the book ended.
goodnightmoon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just love Peck's niche of midwestern, old-timey stories. The voice is so clear. I read this as a read-aloud to my class and had a great time with the accents. The action is low-key but with enough peaks to maintain interest, though the start took a lot of interpreting to fifth graders. They loved the last line, the suspense through that last chapter (who was the successful suitor?) and the surprise matches. I would read it aloud again!
bibliophile26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Peck is great...this is a children's book, but I think he is one of those authors that appeals to all ages. The book is set during the time of one-room schoolhouses and is about a boy whose teacher dies. The new teacher is...his older sister. I laughed out loud several times and recommend it to everyone.
paulafonseca530B on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audience: Grades 6 and Up The end of summer is similar to a time of mourning to many children. They see the end of long, sunny days as the death of fun and freedom. Students feel powerless against the unstoppable reality of back to school. What happens, however, when the only person qualified to teach dies in August? For the children at Hominy Ridge School, the death of Miss Myrt Arbuckle is the hope for summer resurrected. Russell Culver, the narrator, sees the passing of his teacher as a mercy to the lady herself, who was past her prime and could not even deliver a good whooping, and a miracle to the kids in town. Miss Arbuckle¿s timing, according to Russell, is perfect. With such short notice, who would agree to come to teach at ¿an out-of-date, unimproved, one-room country schoolhouse in the backwoodsiest corner of Indiana¿? To Russell¿s surprise, however, a new teacher is secured. His very own older sister, Tansy, known for her strict ways at home, has taken the challenge of teaching a motley crew of eight students with varying ages and levels of ability. One scheme after the other, Russell attempts to thwart his sister¿s teaching efforts while he plans his own escape to the Dakotas. Between spelling bees and geography quizzes, Russell tries to make sense of a world in which his big and awkward sister has suitors lining up the schoolhouse door, cars start to change the rural American landscape, and he must finally face his responsibilities as an older brother. Richard Peck¿s The Teacher¿s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts is a light-hearted account of country life in Indiana in the beginning of the 20th century. The reader sees the world through the eyes of Russell, the 15-year-old narrator who dreams of running away to the Dakotas. His days are filled with the joys of a simple life¿camping, fishing, playing tricks on his siblings, helping his father with the work of the farm, and hoping for a life of freedom away from the family. Like any teenager, Russell yearns for a life free of the discipline enforced at home by his sister Tansy, but as the story develops, he learns about his own responsibilities within the family. Soon, running away becomes a distant memory in face of his new position as his brother¿s role model. His confusion in face of his veiled animosity towards Eugene, the slick city guy with intentions towards Tansy, sends a clear message to the reader: even without his awareness, Russell is protective of his sister and the life they live in the farm. The Dakotas stand no chance; family comes first. The Teacher¿s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts is a book about family and the bond that keeps it together. Mischief and plotting bring laughter to the audience, and the dark side of life never casts a shadow in the idyllic living of the characters. The Culvers are a tight lot. Even when bickering, they know what matters most¿the happiness and safety of the family. In the end, Russell¿s desire to undermine his sister¿s teaching efforts give way to an acknowledgement of her talents and a hope for her success. The happy end brings together the boys and girls of Hominy Ridge School now as men and women who found success in both professional and personal lives. In the end, hard work pays off, country people stick together, and the sacrifices made out of love shape the world into a better place. Real life is not always like this, but maybe it should be.
kthomp25 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Entertaining family story. Especially good for someone who already has an appreciation of life in a bygone era.
NiPe0706 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book. Very interesting, and funny
owensmj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Young Russell's hopes of quitting school and leaving home to work on a farm after the death of his teacher are challenged when his older sister takes the job. He learns the value of education, and grows to appreciate his friends, family, and place in life more. The book does a very good job at recreating the setting, bringing readers back to rural 1904. Details of technology, such as farm equipment and cars, help make the setting vivid and help the reader to relate more easily to it.
paroof on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow! Just wow. I had no idea I would love this book like I did. Set is rural Indiana at the turn of the century, this story is about growing up while attending a one-room school house. It's funny, it's well-written, it's interesting - it's just a great story. I went out and bought several copies to give to my in-laws as well as to my father. I don't know how well received this would be by junior high kids, but it's a great book for adults - especially older adults.
5hrdrive on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this. It's a little like "To Kill a Mockingbird", folksy and sweet - but without the importance.
AslinnRose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable, laughable, silly at times
martyb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely sterling audio rendition by Dylan Baker made this fun to listen to. Turn of the century life in rural Indiana is related through the eyes of a nine (?) year old boy who attends a one room school house. Lots of country in this story. "As cold as charity" and "Well, skin me for a polecat" and "we shared out and he got a peach off me" make the voice authentic. This is humorous and almost anecodotal and incidental or reminscent in the telling.
cmartin21 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of the funniest books I have every read! Richard Peck is a master at character development and wry humor.
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I read a few of his books before my teacher decided to read it to us. I guess it would pass as a book . It is sometimes funny but not really in the way i like it (rick riordan style). I do not agree with how people are saying that it is a lot like tom sawyer. That book was SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO BORING but the teachers funeral is just MILDLY BORING AND I LIKE IT FOR THE MOST PART.
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