HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: When School Bells Call, A True Story: Farm Life Series, Book 2
Author and Illustrator: Elva Hurst
Publisher: Silver Line Publishing and Bindery, 2008
Related website: www.elvaschalkart.com (author)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Hurst, Elva. When School Bells Call, A True Story: Farm Life Series, Book 2 (published in 2008 by Silver Line Publishing and Bindery, 510 Sleepy Hollow Rd., Lititz, PA 17543). In rural Pennsylvania, summer is rapidly passing by, and autumn is coming. It is early September, and Elva is dreading fifth grade at school. She attends a one-room school house along with her older sister Eva Mae, her friend Linda Reiff, Linda’s sisters, and other neighbors. I assume that it is an Old Order Mennonite school because Elva specifically refers to their “Amish neighbors” the Lapps (I wonder if this is Solomon Lapp’s family, about whom Wanda Brunstetter writes) who also attend, and the school is across the road from an Old Order Mennonite Church, yet there is a reference to other “children in public schools.” There is a new teacher this year.
The book follows Elva’s adventures throughout the fall as she reluctantly starts her new school year, participates in the traditional “food roll” for the new teacher, tries to study fifth-grade arithmetic which she hates, learns an important lesson about lying while pretending to be sick so that she can play hooky from school to escape an arithmetic test, and joins in the family harvest activities. In the back are a glossary that will help readers to understand a number of Pennsylvania Dutch concepts, and a couple of recipes for tomato soup and browned butter which are mentioned in the story. Both children and adults can laugh with Elva while they also reflect on the various principles which her life and experiences impress upon her. Author and illustrator Elva Hurst is perhaps best known for her book 2006 picture book Woolly: My Pet Lamb. She also has another picture book, Johnny, The Story of a Doll.
When we were in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country last year, I noticed the four books of Hurst’s Farm Life Series and picked up this one because I am interested in anything related to old schools. I now wish that I had bought all four. Book 1 is The Pony Cart Adventure (2008) and must take place the summer before When School Bells Call because in the latter Elva writes, “There would be no more swimming in the creek or pony cart adventures. Linda and I laughed as we recalled our unforgettable pony cart ride to town and coming back in a thunder storm.” Book 3 is A Country Girl’s Christmas (2009), and Book 4 is Then Comes Spring. A similar book, True Friend, about a horse, was written by Elva’s daughter, Bethany, age twelve. I certainly enjoyed reading about Elva’s school days.