Being a Miss Agnes: Writing for Our Kids

There’s a sweet little book called The Year of Miss Agnes, by Kirkpatrick Hill, about a teacher who moves to a remote part of Alaska to teach in a one-room schoolhouse (back in the late 1940’s). The families in the area rely on the fishing industry, and previous teachers were annoyed by the constant smell of fish on the children and their inability to relate to simple American reading primers like Dick and Jane. The children are far behind in their academic skills and have little hope that a new teacher will be different.

miss agnes

But Miss Agnes is different. She embraces the culture and the children from the get-go, hanging their artwork on the walls, reading them stories they’ve never heard before like Robin Hood, and best of all, she writes them stories they can relate to–stories about the children themselves and their families!

This book will appeal to children from about second grade through sixth, and I highly recommend it to aspiring and practicing teachers. The lengths Miss Agnes goes for her students and their families is an inspirational model for us all.

It inspired me to write for my students and my own children. Right now, I teach college students, but my son’s teachers have been so gracious as to allow me to volunteer in his elementary classrooms. I’ve been able to do some extension activities with his small reading group the past two years. I got to know the kids pretty well, and as an end-of-school gift, I decided to write a story about them. The first time I did it, with his first grade group of five crazy boys, I was shocked that right after I gave them the little books I wrote them, they were silent. Silence was not a normal characteristic of our group! But they were reading, drinking it in, exclaiming when they came to their own names in the short story.

book boys 2
This was the 1st grade story I wrote, done in a “Bare Book,” which I talk about below.

This year, I almost didn’t do a story for his (totally different) group. I didn’t feel like I was “on my game” most of the year, as I had a baby in November, and we only met once a week. A few weeks back, the group had started reading Friendship According to Humphrey, by Betty G. Birney, with their teacher. I had seen the Humphrey books and always thought they looked cute, but hadn’t read one till now. It was so cute. I loved how the story was told from the class hamster’s perspective. These books will appeal to about second through fifth grades.


At the last minute, I decided to go ahead and write them a story, using the Humphrey book for inspiration. Mine was told from the perspective of a “class cat” (because we have a couple of diehard cat-lovers in the group), and it involved each of these six children and their personal interests. I wasn’t really sure how “into” it they would be, but I wrote the story, made a cute cover for it, and put it in a folder for each child to keep.

cat club

I don’t know why I repeatedly get surprised by things like this, because I should know better at this point. But I was surprised at how their faces lit up when they saw the story. I was surprised how they laughed at the funny parts and exclaimed over seeing their names and personal interests in the story (which are also referenced in the cover art pictures). No one critiqued my character development or any plot holes there may have been.

I also had hard-cover blank books to give each of them, thanks to my husband. (The ones he orders are called Bare Books, and you can find them on Amazon.) I told them they could do anything they wanted in them: write a story, poetry, draw illustrations, whatever, and they could start today, or save it for summer.

I reminded them specifically that when we write, we can make anything we want happen. A cat can be a class pet in a story! A cat can talk in a story! The possibilities are endless.

Writing is such a lovely escape, and adults model that when we write for and with our kids. Read, and write, on!

7 thoughts on “Being a Miss Agnes: Writing for Our Kids

  1. Judi Green May 20, 2016 / 7:06 pm

    blockquote, div.yahoo_quoted { margin-left: 0 !important; border-left:1px #715FFA solid !important; padding-left:1ex !important; background-color:white !important; } Sara, I enjoyed your thoughts and recommendations. Your children are so fortunate to have you to mother them and inspire them.  We just about have Dads business finished. The house is cleaned out and is on the market.  We go on vacation with Adrienne and Kyle June 3-12. Melanie ( we are so grateful) is coming most of that time to take care of Grandmama.  Gary and I talked about not being able to imagine another life event (like Dads death) that would be so much emotional and physical work!  Grandmama will be greatly missed and grieved, but she is ready and her business is in Gary’s care already.  Gary and I want to DO more activities with friends. Hopefully we’ll see you.  Love, Judi 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrea May 20, 2016 / 7:47 pm

    So great Sara! I think Ella will love the Miss Agnes book! And you have definately poked an interest in writing tho I have never been nor aspire to be a writer. But I see the benefit and the impact it could have. This blog was delightful; I may or may not have gotten a bit misty eyed. Love u

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sara Treat Chance May 21, 2016 / 3:05 pm

      Thanks Andrea! Yes, I think Ella would enjoy Miss Agnes. I am so surprised to hear you say you don’t think of yourself as a writer; I do think of you that way! I remember some sweet poems you wrote long ago! 🙂 Love you, dear friend!


  3. Carla June 6, 2016 / 7:56 pm

    Sara, you continually amaze me! What a blessing you have been to the reading groups. I know they will cherish the stories forever. And I do hope you will let me read them.


  4. Linda Proffitt June 7, 2016 / 8:58 pm

    Love this my friend. Your passion for reading inspires me to read more too.


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