fiction favorites…The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

We spent the afternoon with English for You and Me, learning how to diagram sentences — as if there was some reason why anyone in the Western Hemisphere needed to know how to do this.  One by one, Mrs. Baker called us to the blackboard to try our hand at it.  Here’s the sentence she gave to Meryl Lee:
The brook flows down the pretty mountain.
Here’s the sentence she gave to Danny Hupfer:
He kicked the round ball into the goal.
Here’s the sentence she gave to Mai Thi:
The girl walked home.
This was so short because it used about a third of Mai Thi’s English vocabulary, since she’d only gotten here from Vietnam during the summer.
Here’s the sentence she gave to Doug Swieteck:
I read a book.
There was a different reason why his sentence was so short — never mind that it was a flat out lie on Doug Swieteck’s part.
Here’s the sentence she gave me:
For it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us while it was ours.
No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence.  The guy who wrote it couldn’t diagram this sentence…I started to sweat…
“If you had been listening to my instructions, you should have been able to do this,” said Mrs. Baker, which is sort of like saying that if you’ve ever flicked on a light switch, you should be able to build an atomic reactor.

Holling Hoodhood is starting seventh grade and is beyond certain that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates his guts.  Why else would she use their Wednesday afternoons, when every other student in the classroom is away at religious instruction classes, to make him read and discuss Shakespeare of all things?!

Holling has other troubles as well.  It’s 1967, and the Vietnam War is casting its shadow over everyone’s life.  His father, utterly absorbed in building Hoodhood and Associates into an architectural kingdom for Holling to inherit, is a distant and demanding man.  Then there is the ignominy of playing the part of a fairy in The Tempest, the sinister rats prowling in the classroom ceiling, the juvenile-delinquent eighth graders always ready to torment him…

It’s a trying year for Holling, but as the months go by and his checklist of “Shakespeare Plays I Have Read” lengthens, he grows substantially in his understanding of the world, in determining what constitutes a hero, and in recognizing who the true fools are, despite outward appearances.  His perceptions of people and events sharpen and mature.  Somehow, between cream puffs and track shoes, baseball games and The Monkees, a better Holling Hoodhood emerges.

I loved this book!  I laughed out loud…a lot!… and I paused and re-read stunning sections which packed enough depth into a few lines as to warrant a deal of reflection.  It is a many-layered novel, rich with character study,

Cream puffs play a role in this story, too!

insights into Shakespeare, a portrait of the 60s, wry commentary on education… all delivered with both superb dry humor and poignancy!  I used this with a boys book club and was confirmed in my opinion that this is a bit of a stretch for those younger than 12 or 13, better for 14 and up, as the insights, as well as the satirical nature of the book, will be lost on those who are either too young or who don’t know how to catch irony.  I’m including it on my blog even though generally I don’t wander into that age grouping much, so you can read it yourselves or steer older kids to this author.

Gary Schmidt won a Newbery Honor for this book, and is already receiving praise for the sequel, Okay for Now, which was just published.  Do yourself a favor and read these this summer.  And:  my thanks to Bekah and Keith Jones for directing me to this fabulous author!

Amazon link: The Wednesday Wars