The book is set in the late 1940s, narrated through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, Frederika (Fred). She studies in a one-room schoolhouse in an Athabascan village. Most teachers who come to teach in their tiny school in remote Alaska can’t sustain for long and run away at the first smell of fish, claiming that life there is just too hard.
No wonder, Fred doesn't have much faith that this new teacher in town will last for any longer than the previous ones. Tall and skinny, Miss Agnes Sutterfield arrives, and life is never the same for Fred and the school. She is different in looks and otherwise too– she wears pants and speaks in a strange accent. She doesn't mind the smell of fish that the children bring for lunch each day and doesn't get frustrated with the kids, unlike the previous teachers. She plays opera music and reads them Robin Hood and Greek myths. She packs away the old textbooks and hangs up the brightly colored artwork, made by the students, on the walls all around the classroom. She teaches them about their land and culture and more importantly, to be proud of it. In the evenings, she tutors both students and parents in her cabin and is taking sign language lessons so that Fred's deaf sister can attend school and be taught by her. No other teacher ever said Fred's sister should come to school, leave alone learning sign language for her. She encourages them to dream: to become doctors or scientists.
For the first time, Fred and her classmates begin to enjoy their lessons and learn to read and write.
Told by Fred and added with enough humor to make for an interesting read, it's a story about a dedicated teacher who opens a door to the world, full of opportunities, for her students. Isn’t that what every teacher is supposed to do?