word craft


Story Behind the Story #39: Prairie School

Prairie SchoolOth­er than my research there is no plan, no log­ic to my read­ing plea­sure. I read what grabs my atten­tion. So it was that I came upon a col­lec­tion of rem­i­nis­cences by folks from Nine­teenth Cen­tu­ry pio­neer days, or at least home­stead­ers. I don’t know how the sto­ries were gath­ered, but they were pub­lished, ran­dom­ly, I believe, in news­pa­pers. One of these tales con­cerned a young boy who lived on a prairie. He did not go to school and sub­se­quent­ly did not know how to read. But as he recalled he was taught to read by his vis­it­ing aunt, who was in a wheel­chair. There was very lit­tle in the account, save that, but it caught my atten­tion. More­over the sub­ject, age of the boy, and sit­u­a­tion, struck me as some­thing per­fect for Harper’s I Can Read series.

It all seems very sim­ple, but it was very hard to write. The for­mat demands econ­o­my, care­ful thought, and while you might think oth­er­wise, a firm grasp of nar­ra­tive struc­ture. It is any­thing but a nov­el, but curi­ous­ly, it has all the ele­ments one wants in a vast­ly longer work set­ting, char­ac­ter, and plot.

Prairie School is a very small book, and indeed, a small sto­ry, but large in sub­ject, and, as it turned out, large in emo­tion. From par­ents who have used it as bed­time read-a-louds, and teach­ers who have read it to new read­ers, it seems to engage young lis­ten­ers in the whole notion, and enter­prise of read­ing. Not a bad thing.

Bill Farnsworth did the evoca­tive illustrations.

And since it is based on some­thing, appar­ent­ly, that real­ly hap­pened, I do won­der: what­ev­er became of the real boy who learned to read?

1 thought on “Story Behind the Story #39: Prairie School”

  1. Sounds like a much bet­ter intro­duc­tion to read­ing than “Will Sal Meet Him?” On the oth­er hand, it was such basal read­ers that drove me to read nov­els- and decide that I want­ed to write them.


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