HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Mr. Gallion’s School
Author: Jesse Stuart
Publisher: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, reprinted in 1999
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: 13 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Stuart, Jesse. Mr. Gallion’s School (published in 1967 by McGraw-Hill, New York City, NY). Jesse Hilton Stuart (19071984) was an American writer who is known for writing short stories, poetry, and novels about Southern Appalachia. Born and raised near Riverton in Greenup County, Kentucky, Stuart relied heavily on the rural locale of Northeastern Kentucky for his writings. He first taught school in rural Kentucky at the age of sixteen at Cane Creek Elementary School. After graduating from Lincoln Memorial University, near Harrogate, TN, he taught at Warnock High School in Greenup, KY. Later he was appointed principal at McKell High School, but resigned a year later to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University. He also served as superintendent of the Greenup County Schools before ending his career as an English teacher at Portsmouth High School. Publishing about 460 short stories during his life, he wrote his first one, “Nest Egg,” when he was a sophomore in high school in 1923.
One day while he was plowing in the field, he stopped and wrote the first line of a sonnet, “I am a farmer singing at the plow,” the first line of the seven hundred and three sonnets that he would collect in Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow (1934). One of his most anthologized stories is “Split Cherry Tree,” first published in Esquire, January 1939. Also in 1939, he married Naomi Deane Norris, a school teacher, and they settled in W Hollow near Greenup. His first novel was Trees of Heaven (1940). Taps for Private Tussie (1943) is perhaps his most popular novel, selling more than a million copies in only two years. The theme of education appears often in Stuart’s books. He described the role that teaching played in his life in his autobiographical novel The Thread that Runs So True (1949), though he changed the names of places and people. He was named the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1954. In addition, he also wrote several stories for children, including Hie to the Hunters which was designed specifically for young people in grades six through twelve.
Mr. Gallion’s School is more than just a novel because it is based on Stuart’s years of personal experience as a principal and teacher and expresses Stuart’s strong views on teaching, delinquency, and parental responsibilities, as well as his sharp assessment of boards of education. As one of America’s most popular writers, Stuart makes teaching and high school administration come alive in this moving and impassioned novel with a great character education message in every chapter. The book is an enjoyable read that’s great for high school students and out-of-school adults as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices which earlier generations made in order to get an education. My grandmother, who was a school teacher, had the opportunity of meeting Jesse Stuart and purchased a copy of Mr. Gallion’s School, which I have inherited. I read it and liked it. It does justify dancing, but otherwise it is an interesting story about a new principal at a rural public high school with a bad reputation and how he turns it around.