Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood is a book that is naturally of interest to me because the protagonist in it, Prairie Evers, is a homeschooled girl whose life takes a different turn when her family moves from the mountains of North Carolina to her mother’s childhood home in upstate New York. Among the changes are the fact that her beloved Grammy, who was actually her teacher back home in North Carolina, decides that New York isn’t the place for her and hightails it back to NC. Prairie also learns that she will, for the first time in her life, be attending public school because the school is close enough to attend (back in NC they lived “thirty-eight miles [away] on a bad road”) and her parents decide that the time has come for her to enter “real” school for a multitude of reasons including the fact that “there’s more to learn than [they] can teach her now” and because they feel that Prairie is “spending all [her] time just with old folks.” Prairie, of course, hates the idea, but what can she do? She enters fifth grade and dislikes it just as much as she expects to (of course!): she feels completely unlike herself in her new school clothes; she hates the confines of the classroom; and the other children are not friendly to her. However, as the story progresses, Prairie finally makes one true friend: Ivy. Ivy has a rather difficult life at home with her mother, who is by turns apathetic towards Ivy and very harsh with her when she fails to follow all the rules, so the Evers family’s warmth and love provides a welcome respite for Ivy. Ivy is actually harboring a dark secret regarding her family, and the revelation of that secret as well as the fallout from a remarriage for Ivy’s mother spur Prairie to take a drastic step for her friend. The story ends happily enough, with an intact, though cobbled-together, family.
The best part of this story is Prairie’s voice. She loves her Grammy and recalls many things, even in Grammy’s absence, that Grammy taught her. Grammy’s old timey, ”mountain” voice comes through Prairie’s, and Prairie comes off as a very likeable, inquisitive, and caring child. She reminds me of the savvy and resourceful girls in Joan Bauer’s novels. She takes matters into her own hands to try to help Ivy, and while I can’t say I love the outcome, I think it shows a good bit of moxie for Prairie to see her idea through to completion and then live with the consequences when it gets a little tough.
Of course, the elephant in the room regarding this story is the whole homeschooling bit. As a homeschooler, I am both eager to read and wary of books about homeschooling children and families. So how does this one fare? Overall it’s a very positive look at homeschooling, although I do think it’s full of homeschooling stereotypes, too. For example, Prairie’s parents are bohemian, hippie types, returning to New York to live off the land and become self-sufficient. Prairie truly has no friends until she goes to school. Once she goes to school, she’s the stereotypical homeschooler who just doesn’t get the way school works and who would rather be wearing a worn out t-shirt than the clothes her mother bought her. She does conform, but she’s not too happy about it. We also get the typical reactions to homeschooling in the story–neighbors who question the validity and indeed, the sanity, of homeschooling, etc. However, on the plus side, Prairie is a smart girl with lots of common sense and “book learning,” and she is able to pick up her education rather seamlessly. In fact, the whole going-to-school part isn’t really about education at all, but rather about the opportunity for friendship that it opens up to Prairie. Her school experience can be summed up education-wise by these few sentences:
Even with Ivy I didn’t admit how much learning I’d always done on my own out of sheer curiosity. I’d found out in school that it was safer to keep quiet about some things. (109)
I’ve been amazed at how many kids’ books I’ve read recently mention homeschooling or actually have homeschooling as a major element:
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio (homeschooled student goes to traditional school)
- Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead (protagonist has homeschooled friends)
- Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (homeschooling is mentioned as protagonist spends a summer in Africa and is given an assignment to complete while there by her teachers back home)
- The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger (homeschooling is mentioned; my review forthcoming)
- Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire by Mrs. Bunny & translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath (linked to review at Semicolon because I’ve only dipped into it, but one of the protagonists is formerly homeschooled)
And these are all books published this year! I’m sure there are more. Is this a new phenomenon, or am I just newly attuned to it? Can you think of more books with homeschoolers as major players?
I like this one. It seems somewhat surface in its treatment of some rather large domestic issues, but overall it’s a good story with a likeable character and a satisfactory ending. It’s kind to homeschoolers, too. (Nancy Paulson Books, 2012)