Book Review of The Moonlight School by Suzanne Woods Fisher
I was so excited to get the ARC of Suzanne Woods Fisher’s newest book for several reasons. Of course, I LOVE her Amish romances. But more than that, I was thrilled to see that it featured a significant figure in Appalachian history: educator and founder of the Moonlight Schools, Cora Wilson Stewart.
I grew up in Morgan County, Kentucky, just one county over from Cora Wilson Stewart’s home county, Rowan. I graduated from Morehead State University, where Stewart had attended about one hundred years before me. I’ve seen the historical marker that tells her story, located in downtown Morehead beside the well-preserved one-room school. I vividly remember a woman who traveled to elementary schools dressed as Stewart, telling the story of how she brought literacy to the men and women of Eastern Kentucky, and later the nation.
Fisher’s book maintains the basics of Cora Wilson Stewart’s life and work but infuses a fictional account of a cousin, Lucy, who witnessed the birth of the Moonlight School movement. Of course, Lucy encounters romance. Readers witness her character’s growth and spiritual development along the way, all hallmarks of Fisher’s writing. Lucy’s story was engaging and came to a fairly satisfying conclusion.
As a native Appalachian, I am always wary of an outsider’s take on the culture, traditions, and especially the language. I found Fisher’s approach to be loving, appreciative, and accurate- although I continue to dispute the use of “Paw” as the name most children called their father. My experience tells me that “Daddy” was the preferred name. This isn’t a criticism of Fisher’s writing; it is just an observation I’ve had from several books set in this era and region.
The Moonlight School was an easy 5 star read for me. I encourage anyone who has a passion for literacy and education or Appalachian culture to snag this book! I loved reading the notes at the end and finding that Fisher had consulted heavily with one of my favorite Morehead State history professors, Dr. Yvonne Baldwin, whose dissertation was about Stewart’s life and work. Thanks to NetGalley and Revell Books for providing me with an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. It releases on February 2.