Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book Look: Elsie-Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher by Barbara Anne Waite

By: Barbara Anne Waite
Review by: Holly Weiss

Recommended for: High School to Adult

"Well there was this cowboy..." corrals your attention on the first page of Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher. Writing a biography requires not just a talented author, but also a compelling subject. Barbara Anne Waite's book about three years in her grandmother's life have both. Published to coincide with Arizona's centennial, the book discloses the social and economic climate during the early 20th century. It captures Elsie's sense of adventure, optimism and self-assurance. The reader is quickly absorbed in the story.

Cultured, college-educated Elsie, who hails from a well-to-do California family, sets out in 1913 for her first job in an isolated, rural town. We learn from letters to her family how she adapts to teaching grammar school in a one-room schoolhouse and comes to love Arizona. She bathes in Oak Creek, rides horses, and revels in her students. Ever the social butterfly, she quickly makes friends. She falls in love and suffers personal tragedy. Taking the challenge of teaching seriously, she soon works her way up to larger schools and high school classes. She is a no-nonsense woman full of pluck and resourcefulness.

A year after her grandmother's death, the author found her diary. "I loved and still love Arizona," Elsie says of her three years there. Waite clearly "gets" her grandmother and portrays her life and emotions clearly. Waite's website states that her research consisted of not only Elsie's letters and diaries, but also personal narratives on cassette tapes, manuscripts, interviews with her former students, and newspaper accounts.

Biographies are often so overloaded with detail that the reader flips pages to find the interesting parts. Not so with this highly readable book. Elsie's letters are fascinating. They are interspersed with photographs, illustrations, diary excerpts and author explanations. Footnotes bolster the historical context.

Elsie lives and breathes books and words. She inspired her students to love literature. You will cheer this unique, fascinating individual.

Highly recommended.

Barbara Anne Waite's website

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