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Book Review

The Secret School by Avi has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Ida Bidson is one of eight students at the Elk Valley, Colorado, school in 1925. When the teacher leaves suddenly to care for her ailing mother, School Board Chairman Jordan closes the school. He informs the kids there’s not enough time left in the year to hire another teacher.

Ida and her friend Tom are both eighth-graders. The only way they can move on to high school in nearby Steamboat Springs is if they pass special exams. The younger children won’t get credit for their school year either. Everyone will have to start his or her current grade again in the fall.

Tom knows Ida wants to be a teacher. He suggests she lead the school for the remaining weeks in the term. Ida both likes and fears the idea. She and Tom talk to the other children, and they all vote to try it. They realize, however, that Mr. Jordan will not approve. The plan will only work if they can keep it a secret.

Ida and her 7-year-old brother, Felix, tell their parents about their plans. Ida’s mother gives her clips for her hair so she can look more mature, and her father gives her a clock to keep track of the school day. The kids access the locked school building by climbing through a window.

Ida initially struggles with fears and insecurities as she teaches children close to her age. At first, she has to discipline an irregular attender named Herbert, but he begins to behave after she and the other kids threaten to expel him. Ida visits Herbert’s run-down farm after he’s missed a few days of school. His father, who never received much education of his own, accuses her of playing school and sends her away.

Miss Sedgewick, from the county education office, visits the school while class is in session. Ida has no choice but to explain their secret school. Miss Sedgewick says she will consider what she’s seen and decide how to handle it. She returns a few weeks later. She says she will allow their school to continue, but everyone must take end-of-year exams to prove they’re ready for the next grade. Ida’s students study harder than ever, and Ida is weary from making lesson plans on top of doing her farm chores. In addition, she begins to worry she may not pass her own exams because she hasn’t had time to study.

Herbert learns from his father that Mr. Jordan is planning a covert school board meeting. Mr. Jordan aims to convince the other members to shut down the school. Herbert tells Ida what he’s learned, and she and Tom make flyers to ensure the townspeople are aware of the meeting. Many turn out to support Ida and the kids. Mr. Jordan reluctantly allows Ida to continue teaching when he discovers he is outnumbered.

Ida grows more stressed and irritable as the day of Miss Sedgewick’s testing approaches. The kids all take their exams and await mailed notifications. A week later, Ida and Felix receive letters indicating they’ve passed. Miss Sedgewick informs Ida that only Herbert failed his test. She also writes that she’s impressed with Ida. She invites the girl to live free of charge in her Steamboat Springs home when Ida attends high school. Since the cost of housing is a big concern for Ida’s family, Ida is overjoyed.

Ida’s parents express their pride in her hard work as a teacher. Herbert tells her he’s interested in joining the Navy. Ida works on the family farm through the summer and anticipates high school in the fall.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Ida’s parents support her secret plan, even though it means going behind Mr. Jordan’s back. Mr. Jordan makes no effort to keep the school going when the teacher leaves, and he says he’s not convinced girls need a high school education. Miss Sedgewick gives Ida a chance to prove herself and offers free lodging for the girl during high school. Herbert’s dad never received much education and doesn’t think his son needs it either.





Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 13








Record Label



Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company


On Video

Year Published



IRA Children’s Choice Award, 2002 and others


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