Brightest and Best by Olivia Newport
It’s 1918 and as the end of WW1 approaches the one room schoolhouse of the small Amish community in eastern Ohio is decidedly dilapidated, and the teacher fears for the children’s safety. as she invites the fathers of her pupils to assess what’s needed to make it safe for th new school year a structural collapse makes it clear that the building is beyond repair. It soon transpires that a new teacher will also be needed, to replace the current one, who will marry before the start of the new school year.
The local authorities refuse to provide any funds for a new building and take the opportunity of the problems facing the Amish to insist that their children attend the Seabird Consolidated Grade School with English children until they reach the age of 16.
This causes multiple problems for the Amish community who are united in their distress about the plan. The book follows the saga of the decision to educate the Amish children with the English, focussing particularly on the Wittmer family and Emma Hilty who is shortly to marry Gideon Wittner, a widowed father of three. This story offers an interesting view on life in the early twentieth century from both Amish and english perspectives. It is full of likeable [and particularly dislikable] characters, tackles relationships between the communities at many different levels and is a really good read. Alongside the worries about the children, we read about discrimination, bullying, and vandalism alongside loyalty, caring and humanity. This is an easy and engaging read which demonstrates a real understanding of the difficult issues encountered between two communities with sometimes very different values, who struggle to live amicably alongside each other. Many thanks to Barbour Books who made a copy of this book available for review, via Netgalley.