During the 1967 school year, on Wednesday afternoons when all his classmates go to either Catechism or Hebrew school, seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood stays in Mrs. Baker's classroom where they read the plays of William Shakespeare and Holling learns much of value about the world he lives in.
Original publication date
Have you ever read a book wherein you simply did not want it to end?
Have you ever read a book wherein the characters were so beautifully portrayed that you wanted them as real-life friends?
Have you ever read
Gary Schmidt has written such a book!
Praise should not be given lightly, rendering the message meaningless. Thus, rarely do I gush or stand on a soap box telling all to read a specific book, but this is an exception.
RUSH to get it, but then slowly read it, savoring every word, every nuance, every turn of the phrase and every heartwarming paragraph.
Welcome to 1967 where Holling Hoodhood is entering Mrs. Baker's seventh grade class at Camillo Junior High in Long Island, NY. The only Presbyterian in Wednesday class, he must stay behind with Mrs. Baker while all others either attend catechism or Hebrew school.
What unfolds is quite surprising to Holling as originally he was convinced Mrs. Baker hated him. He soon discovers a magical, wonderful mentor who instills a love of Shakespeare. Soon Holling is quoting verbatim and applying the emotions set forth by Shakespeare to his own real life, coming- of-age situations.
The cast of characters includes some bullies, some meanies, and many stellar remarkable people. Using Viet Nam as a backdrop, Schmidt allows us to see the impact on Holling's family, and his teachers, as both Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Bigio, the school cook, have husbands who are fighting in the Viet Nam jungle.
Without over politicizing, Schmidt makes a statement as we watch L.B. Johnson escalate the war while families watch the six o'clock news with Walter Cronkite.
Through Holling's eyes, we observe the character of a classmate, Mai Thi, A Viet Nam refugee, who becomes a scapegoat and victim of stereotyping.
As Holling not only learns Shakespeare, he garners valuable experiences, and as the year progresses, he learns to stand up for himself -- and in the process gains enough confidence to stand up for others.
Thanks to Alaskabookworm (Linda) and Stasia for recommending this 2008 Newbery Honor book. The only disappointment I have is that it was an honor book when truly, it should have received the medal!
The story occurs during the Vietnam War, and various current events, including the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., affect the characters. Holling grows during the book, and shows he'll be a better man than his insensitive, mercenary architect father. If only the events in the book were as convincing as the historical events in which the story is set. Nonetheless, if you're willing to suspend disbelief and follow a likeable character - and have some Shakespeare fun along the way - you can have a good time with this book.
From the flatly stated first sentence to the heart-swelling last page, The Wednesday Wars is a book that straps you into an emotional roller-coaster ride and never lets you go until you are fully sure that your internal organs have been permanently rearranged.
"Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me."
Those two sentences tell us a lot about Holling in general. He lives his life in superlatives. He goes from being the class hero to the class goat and back again in a matter of pages. Like many seventh graders, the events of his own life take on extreme importance, while the events of history occupy the background. As we go from September to May with Holling, his relationship with Mrs. Baker improves, he becomes a hero of stage and track, and he gets the girl. Schmidt tells a compelling story, but his real talent is in writing about relationships. Through the smallest details, we see Holling's relationships develop with Mrs. Baker, with his sister, and with his dad.
But even more interesting is the way in which Schmidt layers the events of 1967-68 in the background of Holling's story. Mrs. Baker's husband is away at war, as are many other family members and friends of the staff Camillo Junior High. Holling's sister embraces the peace movement, and even Holling's dad pauses when assassinations rock the country. Schmidt shows us these events through the eyes of a seventh grader, capturing the essence of this period in history.
This book is funny and sad and rings true with each word. I finished it in a marathon reading session after my family was asleep last Sunday night. With tears rolling down my face, I felt lucky to have seen the world through the eyes of Holling Hoodhood, if only for a year.
Schmidt's use of crisp, insightful dialogue is punctuated with sarcasm teens are known for, and will love reading. His Holling Hoodhood, while not the best or most memorable name for a youthful protagonist, is to be admired for his adaptability and making the best of awkward situations. Schmidt's clever use of Shakespeare's plays and Holling's growing interest in his characters and how their dilemmas fit into his life, serve as a great introduction into the Bard for middle school readers of today
As a piece of historical fiction, Schmidt invites us into the Hoodhood's Perfect House and lets us view the dynamics of an American family in 1967. Families then still ate dinner together, watched the Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and listened to the mounting number of soldiers being brought home in body bags from Vietnam. Schmidt also shows a family this is on the verge of becoming the dysfunctional families of the 1970's. Holling is a good sport about t his neglectful parents, who can't seem to make it to either the school play or his cross country race. He always knows his sister Heather's moods by what music is on and how loud she plays it. While not out right defiant towards her father, she expresses the youth view of the social and political upheaval of the nineteen sixties.
I'm rather ashamed to say I've been putting this book off, despite the acclaim it's received and the recommendations I've received from others on LT. The truth is, I found Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy depressing, and was afraid I'd be in for the same sort of book. What I didn't realize at all was how incredibly funny The Wednesday Wars is. I listened to quite a bit of it on my commute to work, and narrator Joel Johnstone not only has a pitch-perfect reading sounding like a middle school boy, he also brings out the humor in every situation (I will never think of cream puffs in exactly the same way again...).
Though the book is set in 1967-68, and the Vietnam War and politics are mentioned, what is the center of the book is not these historical events, but Holling's growth as an individual. Holling struck me as a typical teenager in his developing empathy, on the one hand seeing how an interaction affected both an adult and his schoolmate and, not too long later, telling his teacher he didn't think she had any problems to speak of. Because of this, even in a first-person narration we get to know several other characters well as Holling comes to understand them better. The only character that seemed rather one-dimensional to me was his father who is, frankly, a jerk. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this, and will definitely be moving the companion book Okay for Now on my TBR list.
Mrs. Baker begins to teach him
Holling Hoodhood fight of bullies, star in a Shakespeare play, falls in love, help his troubled flower-power-sister and stand up to his uncaring father - and last but not least - form a beautiful friendship with Mrs. Baker. The last few chapters - so touching and it all comes together wonderfully.
Joel Johnstone gives a perfect narration as Holling Hoodhood - it was so much fun to listen to. One of the best readings (and listenings) this year.
I really loved this book. I couldn't put it down to go on vacation today, that's how into it I was. Fortunately it's a short book, so it only took a couple of hours to read the whole thing from beginning to end. Partly it was because I loved Holling. He's such a weenie at first, but he sure grows over the course of the book. His family is a mess. His dad is a control freak of legendary proportions, while his mother is completely passive and his sister is ready to rebel.
Mrs. Baker is a great character too. At first, all we know of her is what Holling can see, and that's a strictly no-fun teacher. But as they spend time together, he comes to see her as a worried military wife, a former Olympian, and even a friend.
I strongly recommend this book. I hope it's not the kind that only adults will read. I think kids would get a lot out of it too. It is very, very funny in parts, and then surprisingly sober in others. Just great.
In what Holling suspects is an attempt to torment him, Mrs. Baker decides that since they have the time together they will study the works of Shakespeare and gives him a copy of The Merchant of Venice. Much to Holling's surprise, he likes the play. It's full of great insults like 'pied ninny' that he can use on his family and friends and on the school bullies who won't even know they've been insulted. Over the course of the year Holling and Mrs. Baker form a close bond as he grows to see how much she really cares for her students in spite of her gruff way with them.
Holling faces many of the typical problems seventh grade boys face. He tries out for the track team. He has to deal with a very stern father. He has an older sister who constantly belittles him. There are the school bullies mentioned above and a girl he has an interest in. The world outside intrudes when the cafeteria cook's husband is killed in Vietnam and when Mrs. Baker's husband is listed as missing in action. Holling faces all of these events with such a winning, caring personality and good sense of humor that the book never loses it's lighthearted tone for long.
It took me a while to get into the story, but once I did there was much to enjoy. Holling's classmates provide many scenes of Tom Sawyer like hi-jinks. There are two escaped pet rats who take months to catch and make several very comic scenes possible. The Wednesdays Holling spends working through Shakespeare show that he is an exceptional student, but they do not leave the realm of the possible. Holling reacts to the plays like you'd expect a 12/13-year-old boy to. He thinks Romeo and Juliet are both stupid, for example. (I quite agree with him here.) He likes the curses as I mentioned earlier, he doesn't really see the point of Hamlet until a family crises make it hit close to home and he re-reads it. Holling is telling us about the entire school year, so events are kept moving at an entertianing brisk pace. Each chapter is a blend of humorous scenes and food for thought and each leaves you wanting more until a very satisfying ending.
Though I suspect there may be some wish-fulfillment going on in The Wednesday Wars, but Mr. Schmidt does bring all of his characters to life. Hollings classmates are all individual personalities, a few of them are even complicated. There is an innocence to them that would be hard for me to believe if the story wasn't set in 1967 but they students never become saccharine. There are several adults in the school, all of whom are fully developed characters. YA books like this often have only one or two school employees and those are often stock figures, but here we get several teachers, two principals, one custodian and the cafeteria cook who are all fully portrayed characters all acting like adults. I'm not completely sure that I believe a teacher like Mrs. Baker could really exist, but I want her to. That may be wish fulfillment on my part, but I think that's okay as long as the author and the reader are both in on the wish fulfillment together.
The adults Holling's school are not perfect, they do learn from their students, but they are actually wiser than their students, which is nice to see in a YA book. Holling's parents are not so wise. To say that his father does not understand his son or his daughter greatly understates the situation. There are several points in the book when Holling's father is portrayed as a bad parent, frankly. I'm not sure he is a bad parent, but he does make several serious mistakes; he lets his children down, at least twice, in my view and he is never brought to terms with this. Holling's mother is the only significant adult character who is poorly portrayed. She is a basic wet blanket, completely under the control of her husband. This may be true to the times and the situation, but I was disappointed that we never got any insight into her like we did with most of the other adult characters.
So, is there enough here to make this a good book for younger readers? I think so. I suspect The Wednesday Wars would appeal to anyone who enjoyed The Schwa Was Here or Al Capone Does My Shirts. It has just as much humor in it as those two do, with quite a bit more meat on its literary bones. I'm giving The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt five out of five stars.
Holling has lots to deal with in his life besides Mrs. Baker - things like bullies, escaped rats, the impact of the Vietnam War, and a father who is a real jerk. Although lots of teenagers think their parents are awful, many of them eventually get over it. Holling's father is an honest-to-goodness lout. Holling, however, is not, and the reader can't help cheering for him through the whole book.
Everyone should read this book!
This story is set in a simple small town where Walter Cronkite rules the tv at night with coverage of the Vietnam War and spring breaks are spent at the Woolworths counter drinking icy cold cokes with your friends. This is a great coming of age story! I laughed and I cried ...okay I will admit several times!!!
I Don't know challange level
I like the part win he runs away from the rats and how his dad says that acertect is a blood sport......
:D :D :D :D
For another look at the same period of time (7th grade) in a different era (the 1980's) read David Mitchell's Black Swan Green. The themes of growth and family are quite similar. I think the characters would have had a lot to say to each other.
P.S. to Publishers: Changing up the cover could do you a world of good! It just isn't likely to catch the attention of too many young adults.