Educating Jack by Jack Sheffield

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Educating Jack by Jack Sheffield

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: More delightful, heart-warming and funny tales from Ragley on the Forest Village School. It's part of a series but reads well as a standalone. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Bantam
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0593065693

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September 1982 sees the beginning of Jack Sheffield's sixth year as head of Ragley-on-the-Forest village school and some of the village regulars are realising that this is going to be a year to remember too. Nora Pratt has been in the coffee shop for a quarter of a century now. Ronnie Smith decides that the world of employment might be for him after all - but is sacked from one job after a matter of seconds. At the cinema it's ET who's pulling in the crowds and Prince William comes into the world along with the 20p piece (well - not at exactly the same time), but it's Jack Sheffield who is going to face the biggest change.

Normally, I shy away from later books in a series unless I've read the earlier ones. It's not always fair on an author and sometimes it's not that much fun for the reader either, but Educating Jack is an exception. It might take you a few pages to work out who is who or get a sequence of earlier events straight, but you'll not feel it to be a problem. Jack Sheffield is not just the author, he's also the main character in the book and the story is based - loosely - on his time as a headmaster in similar schools in North Yorkshire. The stories he tells have a real ring of truth about them - he understands children and the way they think. I laughed out loud on several occasions and once - when the wedding ceremony was explained - I had tears running down my face and I still don't know whether I was laughing or crying.

It might be fiction. It might be a light and easy read but there are hidden depths. The headmaster has a professional position to maintain within the village as well as the school and he has to be careful about what he says and to whom - and how he reacts to situations. There's a real feel for the eighties too. It's not just the leg warmers or the clothes - it's the names culled from Dynasty and similar shows which were blessed on children. It's a story told from a different perspective but it put me very much in mind of Adrian Mole and that's praise indeed. You might also enjoy Welcome to Life by Alice de Smith.

There's a wonderful snapshot of a particular part of North Yorkshire as it was some thirty years ago. Life was simpler and perhaps kinder and lived in a particularly beautiful part of the country - on the edge of Hambleton Hills. Jack Sheffield lives in York and Hampshire now. As a Yorkshireman I can't imagine what he's doing in Hampshire, unless, like Alan Titchmarsh he's doing missionary work.

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