27/03/2006

Over Hill and Dale

This is the second autobiographical book by Gervase Phinn, recounting anecdotes from his days as a school inspector in Yorkshire. I found the first book a little stilted, but enjoyed this one a lot more. A little like James Herriot's books about being a vet, each chapter is complete in itself, but there are also ongoing friendships and characters who recur. By the end of this book I had quite a clear picture in my mind about some of them, and am eager to read the other two sequels.

There's light humour at times, particularly in the innocence or earthiness of some of the children, but it's written without a hint of condescension. The author often comes across as one who asked a stupid question, or an ignoramus knowing little about country and farming life. There is criticism of some of the teachers, and old-fashioned styles of education which he comes across, but even these are shown in context: sometimes schools were battling against prejudice, against children who hadn't any wish to learn anything, or parents who had no time to encourage their children at home. In general, though, the teachers are commended, and the schools shown as happy places for most of the children.

There were some very moving parts of the book too. By the time I was two-thirds of the way through it was difficult to put down, and I was sorry to reach the end. Recommended to anyone who knows anything about education and schools.

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