Monday, January 24, 2011

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

My mom read this book for a children's lit class, loved it and gave me a copy.  I started it, but didn't get sucked in, then read something else and left it on my nightstand.  I'm telling you this, because I think The Wednesday Wars is a good book.  For some reason I had to get into it a way to realize it.  The narrator's voice wasn't really interesting to me at first, and I think I had to understand the characters before I cared about them.  I wasn't sure what or who to focus on because there seemed to be a lot of little storylines going on.  Each chapter is a month in the school year starting with September.  Once I fininshed October I was hooked.

Holling Hoodhood (I know, I think the name was a dumb choice too), is a 7th grader in the late 60's.  Teachers and staff members have husbands serving in Vietnam, he and his friends idolize Mickey Mantle, and his sister wants to be a hippie.  I liked the social references, and I think the story provides a realistic look at life during this time, (although I wasn't there).  I liked Holling.  The story kind of revolves around his relationship with his teacher Mrs. Baker.  He believes she hates his guts because he is the only student that doesn't go to Jewish or Catholic classes on Wednesday afternoon, so she makes him do menial jobs, or read Shakespeare.  As the book goes on they become allies, and she seems to be the kindest person in his life.

I liked how things weren't perfect, but turned out OK.  Holling is picked on, embarrassed, and dissappointed, but he does alright.  There are a few really sad parts, and a few really funny parts.

A few of Holling's thoughts:
"How do parents get to where they can say things like this?  There must be some gene that switches on at the birth of the first-born child, and suddenly stuff like that starts to come out of their mouths."

"Let me tell you, it's a pretty hard thing to be a seventh grader with new death threats hanging over you just about every day."

"Mrs. Bigio opened her mouth, but the only sounds that came out were the sounds of sadness.  I can't tell you what they sounded like.  But you know them when you hear them."

"Spring Break.  Warm and green days.  You know they aren't going to last, but when you start in on them, they're like a week of summer plunked down as a gift in the middle of junior high school."

This is age appropriate for middle grades, but I think maybe it would be best read aloud in class or at home for 10-12 year olds.  I think students of this age would like the story, but would need encouragement to dig into it.  Probably because it took me a second try.

I really liked how Holling would drop little Shakespeare phrases into his narration from whatever play he was reading.  At first it was just the "cusses" like "toads, beetles and bats" or "pied ninny."  But then he moves on and compares his life naturally with characters, and borrows phrases like "blithe and bonny."  It works.

I think this is a really well-written book, and worth picking up.  It is appropriate for kids, I'd say 10 and up.


Betsy said...

I had the exact same experience with this book. It had come highly recommended, so I picked it up, but put it down for extended periods at least twice because I thought it was so boring. When I finally decided to just push forward, I couldn't put it down and ended up really enjoying it.

The only part that bugged me (other than his name -- stupid) was how easily he and some of the other kids seemed to understand Shakespeare. I know he had a good teacher egging him along, but I don't think my 12 year old would be crying at a Shakespeare play. But, perhaps I underestimate Shakespeare. It just has never come to me that easily. Just made me wonder (and feel sheepish).

Kammy T said...

Betsy--I agree totally. I remember reading Shakespeare in 9th grade and really not understanding much. In fact, I didn't really like Shakespeare until Uncle Don's humanities class as a freshman in college. Kenneth Branagh helped too!

Also, if seventh graders are the target audience, they wouldn't understand Wednesday War's little references either. No way any 12 year old has read multiple plays by Shakespeare.

I do think it would be fun as a middle school teacher to teach this as a class novel. I can think of lots of fun discussions and writing assignments. If you could give them background on the plays and explain the references, it would be more interesting.

Julie said...

I LOVED this book! It was never boring to me?? It is one of my favorite young adult books and as I read the last page, I got on and ordered it! (Although, now that I think about it, you two both loved "Elegance of a Hedgehog" and I wanted to throw the book- hard. But, that's another topic! Ü)

Any book that makes me laugh out loud and cry- is going to go well by me. There were some very tender moments in this book that I just LOVED!

Kammy T said...

Julie~you crack me up! It was just the beginning for some reason. I had to warm up to it. But I agree about the tender moments. When he makes it to see Mickey Mantle and then, you know...but then the practice on the school field...LOVED it. I think Mrs. Baker is the best.