A former lawyer assists his wife, a kindergarten teacher, in this anecdotal debut memoir applauding her students.
Karen Brown isn’t your average kindergarten teacher—at least, not according to her husband, 60-something William Brown, who was once an internationally ranked professional tennis player and is now a recently retired lawyer. The “seldom-smiling” William visited her classroom one day in 2008 and was touched by Karen’s charming adaptability and her students’ admiration for her. He was so stirred, in fact, that he decided to “leave the caustic cauldron of the law” and help his wife in the classroom, hoping to rekindle the joy he once felt as a young father. He writes of how Karen’s 36-year career at Grover Beach Elementary School in California helped inspire an impoverished community riddled by gangs, drugs, violence and parental neglect. There are dozens of humorous, heartbreaking and everyday stories here, ranging from a paragraph to a few pages long, revealing Karen’s radiance and her students’ innocence. In one vignette, several students comment on their jailed relatives until Karen finds an opportunity to correct one student’s grammar. In another, a boy asks Karen if she knows karate after he confuses her outfit with “karate clothes.” After Karen reveals that she’s a vegetarian, she later overhears a student say, “Mrs. Brown is a virgin. She only eats vegetables.” Another boy boasts that his mother gave him a stick of gum, but when he offers it to Karen, she notes that it seemed to have “aged in the boy’s pocket for a substantial period of time.” The author’s voice is warm and sincere, if a bit melodramatic, when describing the students (whom he calls “visible appearances of God on earth”), but his lawyerly attention to detail sometimes detracts, as when he describes Karen’s classroom: “The front (south) wall was 18 feet high, sloping down to 11 feet on the north wall. The north wall, looking out onto the playground, had 35 windows that bathed the room in natural light.” Overall, the book’s intended audience may be limited, as more than 400 pages of anecdotes, poignant as they sometimes are, may be too many for casual readers.
An often moving, if overlong, homage to teachers.