Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
This autobiography has been one of Stuart’s most popular books. Its initial reception was quite positive, particularly among those interested in the improvement of education. In 1950, the National Education Association voted The Thread That Runs So True “the most important book in 1949.” The work has enjoyed steady sales over the years and remained in print decades after its initial publication.
The book’s popularity can be attributed to its strong and important message and particularly to Stuart’s method of communicating that message. Readers see Stuart’s courage, idealism, dedication, and love of learning (and by extension, that of other excellent teachers), and they also see the greed, ignorance, moral blindness, and political corruption that can get in the way of teaching and learning. Stuart’s message is not couched in the abstract language of bureaucrats but in the language of poetry, which sings to readers. Most important, The Thread That Runs So True is not a sermon but a story, sharing the attractive qualities of fiction to the extent that one critic characterized the book as an “autobiographical novel.” Some critics have compared Stuart’s work to Edward Eggleston’s The Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871) for its long-term value as both entertainment and inspiration.
While Stuart’s message is profound, it is also simple enough to be understandable and attractive to young readers, who appreciate its strong dramatic action, its humor, and its portrayal of the virtuous underdog often triumphing over avarice, stupidity, and political corruption. These attractive elements probably account for the fact that excerpts from The Thread That Runs So True have been anthologized in high-school textbooks over the years.