Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Wednesday Wars

by Gary D. Schmidt

Mrs. Baker hates Holling Hoodhood, at least as he sees it. Because of him, she has to stay and teach on Wednesday afternoons, so she punishes him by forcing him to read Shakespeare, and as we all know "Teachers bring up Shakespeare only to bore students to death." (p40) Things aren't all that great at home for Holling either. His dad, the owner/creator of Hoodhood and Associates lives his whole life focusing on how to further the business, and his wanna-be hippy/flower-child older sister doesn't exactly fit into her father's views. Holling knows one thing for sure, life as a seventh grader in 1967/1968 is not all it's cracked up to be.

I really enjoyed this story. At the end of every chapter, I would comment to my husband just how much I liked it. I thought Holling's views of the world were rather delightful (if a bit unbelievable), and I really enjoyed the writing. Here's one of my favorite passages:

"Mr. Guareschi's long ambition had been to become dictator of a small country. Danny Hupfer said that he had been waiting for the CIA to get rid of Fidel Castro and then send him down to Cuba, which Mr. Guareschi would then rename Guareschiland. Meryl Lee said that he was probably holding out for something in Eastern Europe. Maybe he was. But while he waited for his promotion, he kept the job of principal at Camillo Junior High and tested out his dictator-of-a-small-country on us." (p19)

Isn't that a great description? Schmidt uses descriptions like that throughout the story.

As Holling reads Shakespeare's The Tempest, he finds it pretty amusing. Especially the curse words that Caliban uses through out. In fact, he spends most of the book memorizing and throwing out the curse words at others. My favorite was probably "Toads, beetles, bats!" which popped up quite often.

As the year progresses, Mrs. Baker is there for Holling (and his classmates) in a way that Holling's parents seem unable to be. When his dad forgets to pick up Holling for the opening game at Yankee Stadium, Mrs. Baker comes to the rescue. She also teaches him how to run properly, which gives him the chance to join 8th graders on the varsity cross county team. But, Mrs. Baker has problems of her own. Mr. Baker is missing in action over at Vietnam and two rats are living in her classroom ceiling. Every kid should have a teacher like Mrs. Baker, who is able to put all else aside and help you reach your true potential. She was pretty amazing.

The story ends when the school year ends with the major crisis' cleaned up.

While I really liked the story, I did have a couple of complaints. The first is that Holling tells the story in first person as though it's happening at the time. He does not sound anything like 7th graders I know. He was wise well beyond his years, and while I appreciated the insight that added, it seemed to take away from the story in a way. The other thing was that I am not sure how many 7-9th graders would actually enjoy this book. It would work well in a study of the 60s, but most kids don't seem to know that much about that era (I don't actually know much about that era either), so a lot of the significance of what Holling is saying might be lost. It seems like the real audience of this book might be adults who grew up in the 60s, or people who enjoy history.

Those complaints aside, I really did enjoy this book a lot, and I would recommend it.

4.5 out of 5 stars.


Laura H said...

I just found your blog and its great!! I just finished this book and really liked it too. I want to recommend it to my 12yr old nephew but like you not sure if he will get the 60s era.

KT said...

Welcome Laura! and thanks. I would be interested to know what your nephew thinks of the book.