Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood

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:

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)

Reviews elsewhere:

4 thoughts on “Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood”

  1. Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose also has a homeschooled girl returning to traditional school. I thought both it and Wonder were fairly kind to homeschoolers although it annoyed me a bit that the Mom in Wonder gives her inability to teach fractions as one of her reasons for putting Auggie in traditional school.

    It is interesting to see so many books with homeschooled characters. Also interesting that they all involve the transition to traditional school and not the homeschooling itself. Or the family is in a very unusual circumstance. (Nim’s Island or the movies A Dolphin’s Tale and We Bought a Zoo all had homeschooled kids but with very unusual family situations.) It will be great when there is a book or movie with a homeschooled character who is actually currently being homeschooled but living a fairly normal, average life.

  2. I saw this at the library on the new book rack yesterday.

    It sounds like it might hit some of my tender spots these days as a homeschooler — my awareness of the things I don’t feel I’m providing very well!

  3. Alice, I agree that it would be really nice to read about a homeschooled child or homeschooling family in the midst of homeschooling, not transitioning to traditional school. Even in Liar and Spy, the homeschooled friends of the protagonists end up with going to school as a real possibility after the end of the story.

    Janet,

    Yes, I know what you mean. This book, however, focuses so much on Ivy’s family issues and their effect on her life (at least in the second half) that you don’t have much time to think about Prairie’s friendlessness.

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