Monday, September 1, 2008

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

We are magically transported back to the 1960s in Gary Schmidt's Newbery Honor book, The Wednesday Wars. It is September of 1967 and Holling Hoodhood is starting the 7th grade. He is the only Presbyterian in a class of Catholic and Jewish students and consequently has no place to go when the rest of his class leaves on Wednesdays to go to religious education classes. It is then that he decides that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. She first has him doing very meaningless chores like cleaning blackboards and erasers. (How many remember cleaning erasers against a brick wall?) But when that doesn't work out as she plans, she decides that he will begin reading Shakespeare. Total proof that she hates him.

Schmidt craftily weaves the Shakespearean plays into Holling's life both in and out of school. He becomes totally involved in the plays and realizes that the Bard speaks to junior high boys as well as English teachers. Holling even joins a community group and plays Ariel in the local theatre production. Needless to say he suffers some repercussions from this decision. 1967-1968 were tumultuous years with the Viet Nam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, atomic bomb drills, and the peace movements. They were also the years of Ralph Houck's Yankees and we meet so many of the memorable players of those years like Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle and Joe Pepitone. There are numerous other subplots involving Holling's father's architectural firm, his sister's running away from home, classmates, and Mrs. Baker's husband who is a soldier in Viet Nam. We get much of the news from the venerable Walter Cronkite.

This book is a gem and well deserving of the Newbery Honor. It is funny, no actually hilarious, and thought-provoking. It is a shame that the cover does not do the inside of the book justice. It is not enticing and that is a definite shame. Read this book and have a thoroughly enjoying experience. For classroom teachers, it begs to be read aloud. Have fun on a trip back in time!

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