In this reminder that the good teachers “see everything,” readers meet on the first page an unknown author, writing a letter to her former teacher, the special one who in her elementary-school years really understood her. “Dear Teacher,” she writes, “Whenever I had something to tell you, I tugged on your shirt and whispered in your ear. This time I’m writing a letter.”
The author of the letter recalls the first day of second grade, one that filled her with dread, since school involved two things at which she did not excel: “sitting still and listening.” But her teacher—patient, creative and dedicated—always knew precisely how to engage her students, including this antsy, curious girl. We see her, via the letter writer’s memories, gently guide the girl through her second grade year, encouraging her to learn to read (“the reading corner became our secret garden of stories”) and how to listen. Instead of forcing a student who doesn’t fit into the traditional educational mold to play by stringent rules, she calmly makes room for the girl’s way of learning, making her second grade year the most memorable of all.
Hopkinson laces this sweet, tender story with much humor. At one point, the girl has to look up “exasperating” in the dictionary. She’s unsure of its meaning but just knows she heard the teacher use it that one time she wandered off on a field trip. Carpenter puts color to clever use, accentuating the girl’s singular personality and stubbornness by giving her a bright yellow raincoat, a vivid pink dress and striking purple pants—with more muted colors for the other students.
In the end—get out your tissues for this happy cry—we see that the letter-writer is now grown and is a teacher herself, about to start her first job. “I’ll think about everything you helped me explore,” she writes, “and try my best to be like you.” It’s a heartfelt tribute to the hard work of the best teachers—those who nudge and prompt, finding smart and loving ways to inspire fidgety students to learn.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.