A collection of short stories about a young middle school teacher. The early stories, which focus on the students and on Ms. Hempel in the classroom, are hilarious. These fictional kids are as unique, funny, and vulnerable as any real-life adolescents. And Ms. Hempel's struggle to find her feet as a teacher--"not a very good teacher"-- is wonderful. Hard to decide which kid I adored most. Maybe "Edward Ashe, former piano prodigy, who by eighth grade had settled into a catatonic state interrupted only by moments of silent, unrelieved terror whenever she approached his desk?" Also player of the didgeridoo, composer of ragtime waltzes, and author of hilarious Jenny the Tarantula stories. Or Harriet Reznik "precious artifact of another age! Her thick, swingy helmet of hair, the bangs that looked as if they had been cut with the help of a ruler. Her clanging lunch box. Her indifference to television." Or Adelaide Burr, "avid appreciator of dance. Her first book report had celebrated in a collage (dismembered limbs; blue glitter) the life and contributions of Martha Graham, and her second, a dramatic monologue, was based on a bestseller written by a ballerina who had suffered through several disastrous affairs and then developed a serious cocaine habit." (I suspect I read this same bestseller years ago after hearing my mom talk it.) I had an odd desire to adopt every one of Ms. Hempel's students (though no desire to be a teacher myself). The later stories are really quite good as well, but are more concerned with Ms. Hempel's childhood and her personal life. In all fairness, the quality of these stories is just as high, but I would have preferred to stick with classroom exploits. 'Cause they were just too wonderful.