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"The strangest thing. My eyes popped open in the middle of the night. I was wide-awake in a second, surrounded by blackness. Not a sliver of light anywhere. And then I heard father."
Sarah Jane Price[2]

My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, a Prairie Teacher is the twenty-fourth book in the Dear America series by Scholastic. Jim Murphy is the author of the book and it is his second for the series. It was published in October 2001 and was followed by Kathryn Lasky's Christmas After All the next month.

Sarah Jane Price, recently orphaned, decides to become a teacher in order to remain in Broken Bow, Nebraska.

Book description[]

"Monday, February 27, 1882
Slept very little, I was so nervous.... Oh, how I wish Father were here to reassure me and quiet my jumpy stomach and say just the right thing. Once, in Pennsylvania, he and I were alone before the first day of classes began. "Every year a new beginning," he said. "Children will walk in here today who can't read or even count. By the end of the session they'll have more in their heads than they ever dreamed of. That's one of the rewards of teaching, Sarah Jane. Passing on these skills."
My reward isn't so lofty. I am teaching so I can earn money to stay in Broken Bow.


Fourteen-year-old Sarah Jane Price is still mourning the recent death of her father. She had originally came to Broken Bow, Nebraska for her father to work as a teacher. Sarah Jane begins her diary, which she calls "Little Book", in late December 1881. Now two months on from her father's death, Miss Kizer, whom owns the boardinghouse that Sarah Jane is staying at, becomes anxious for her future. She decides that Sarah Jane should go to an orphan girls asylum. Another guest, Reverend Lauter, offers to write to the headmaster. Sarah Jane is against it and even more so when her new friend, Ida Pelham, informs her of the harsh realities she has heard of the asylum.

Sarah Jane later dreams of her father teaching, which sparks an idea for her to become Broken Bow's teacher. She confides her idea to Ida and the girls head to her parents' store for the school rules. There Sarah Jane blurts out her idea to Mr. Pelham and Mr. Gaddis, both members of the school board. Mr. Gaddis strongly opposes her appointment due to her age, but his wife encourages him to bring her proposal to the board. After the board votes year, the grumpy Mr. Gaddis shows her the schoolhouse, a poorly built sod house. Miss Kizer is embarrassed to learn the news secondhand. Reverend Lauter is also disappointed in her actions and never quite warms back up to Sarah Jane.

Over the next few weeks, Sarah Jane prepares her school with Ida's help and visits her soon to be students for confirmation on their attendance. Meanwhile, Miss Kizer gradually becomes cordial with her once again. The first day on February 27, 1882 almost passes by uneventfully until Alfred Pospisil begins crying. Edwin Hewitt then begins unraveling the American flag, while his brother Fred and Carl Huftalen slip outside. Mr. Gaddis witnesses the chaos and chastises Sarah Jane, though she manages to stand up herself. Soon, a new boarder named Mr. Hibbert comes to stay at Miss Kizer's. She learns that he is building a hotel that will rival her boardinghouse. Miss Kizer allows him to stay.

Over the following month, Sarah Jane continues teaching and gradually learns more about handling a group of children of differing ages. Reverend Lauter moves on to the next town in his circuit in mid-March 1882. Sarah Jane sees his departure with some relief. A couple days later, a blizzard suddenly arrives while school is still in session. Sarah Jane decides to stay put until the roof begins to detach. She ties her students together and delivers everyone to a safe home, earning praise from her previous detractors the following day. The Sunday after that, Mr. Gaddis notifies Sarah Jane that a new schoolhouse will be built. She later reflects on her father's death and cries, but now feels at peace.


Sarah Jane's new school was completed before the 1883 spring term. Mr. Gaddis outfitted it with desks, a blackboard, books, and other supplies. A bell arrived for the school in 1884 and was rung on Fourth of July. Sarah Jane taught in Broken Bow for thirty-six years. She earned her teaching certificate at nineteen and her master's degree a few years later. Sarah Jane kept in touch with her first class of students for many years. When she was twenty-five, her former student Charles Denning proposed to Sarah Jane. Their wedding was attended by nearly everyone in Broken Bow. Miss Kizer and Mr. Pelham stood in as her parents. Sarah Jane and Charles lived just outside of town. They had one daughter, named Faith.

After completing her high school education, Ida helped her father run his store. She invested her salary in land and eventually owned over 3,000 acres, which she rented out to farmers. Ida never married, but took in eight orphaned children. She died in 1941. Her brother Timothy became a lawyer and later a state senator in 1918. Miss Kizer hired a crew to move her boardinghouse near the town's new train station. Her business thrived, despite competition from Mr. Hibbert's hotel. Reverend Lauter moved further west as attendance for his sermons fell. He was last heard of in 1893, preaching to railroad workers in Alberta. Carl became a farmer as he predicted, while Fred and Edwin became traveling photographers.

Historical Note[]

Movement to the west of the United States was slow at first due to dense forests, rough terrains, etc. However, as eastern cities grew, the west now looked "inviting" which led to writer John L. O'Sullivan declaring that it was "our manifest destiny to overspread the continent." The Homestead Act was passed in 1862 and the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, both of which encouraged settlement out west. People of the same nationality or religion often settled in the same area. These settlers built sod houses and used dried buffalo chips as fuel. Public school systems were set up in all states. Teachers were in short supply, leading to girls as young as thirteen teaching.

The section briefly touches on the Indian Removal Act of 1830. There are also eight illustrations and photographs with an accompanying map of the United States. The section concludes with recipes "Prairie Cornbread" and "Salt Rising Bread," and Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem "The Snow-Storm."


Main article: List of My Face to the Wind characters
  • Sarah Jane Price, a reserved fourteen-year-old recently orphaned after her father's death. To say in Broken Bow, she becomes a schoolteacher despite initial doubts about her age.
  • Ida Pelham is Sarah Jane's talkative ten-year-old friend and later student. She always speaks her mind and dislikes Mr. Gaddis's rule about teachers not being too friendly with their students.
  • Miss Kizer, the owner of the boardinghouse where Sarah Jane stays. She feels responsible for Sarah Jane after her father dies and becomes a bit of a mother figure to her.


Main article: Jim Murphy

James "Jim" Murphy was an American author whom had written several award-winning nonfiction and fiction books. Besides My Face to the Wind, he also authored West to a Land of Plenty for Dear America and The Journal of James Edmond Pease and The Journal of Brian Doyle for My Name Is America. Murphy got the idea to write My Face to the Wind after viewing a photo of a prairie teacher with her students. His thoughts were that "school must have been an adventure back then."


  • The portrait on the cover is a photograph credited to Gregory A. Coco. The background is a detail from the 1873 painting The Noon Recess by Winslow Homer.[3][4]


See also[]

Arts & Crafts

Dear America

A Journey to the New World | The Winter of Red Snow | When Will This Cruel War Be Over? | A Picture of Freedom
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie | So Far from Home | I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
West to a Land of Plenty | Dreams in the Golden Country | Standing in the Light | Voyage on the Great Titanic
A Line in the Sand | My Heart Is on the Ground | The Great Railroad Race | The Girl Who Chased Away Sorrow
A Light in the Storm | Color Me Dark | A Coal Miner's Bride | My Secret War | One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping
Valley of the Moon | Seeds of Hope | Early Sunday Morning | My Face to the Wind | Christmas After All
A Time for Courage | Where Have All the Flowers Gone? | Mirror, Mirror on the Wall | Survival in the Storm
When Christmas Comes Again | Land of the Buffalo Bones | Love Thy Neighbor | All the Stars in the Sky
Look to the Hills | I Walk in Dread | Hear My Sorrow


The Fences Between Us | Like the Willow Tree | Cannons at Dawn | With the Might of Angels | Behind the Masks
Down the Rabbit Hole | A City Tossed and Broken

External links[]