FRIDAY BOOK SHARING!
What are you reading today?
The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt is an honest, funny, crazy-but-believable and important coming-of-age story. Holling Hoodhood faces many challenges entering 7th grade. With bullies, the future of his father’s architecture firm, an older sister who is less than thrilled with Holling, a possible friendship with a girl (wait, really?) and then there is Mrs. Baker. The opening sentence lets the reader in on Holling’s not-so-secret problem: “Of all the kids in seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me.” You see, Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his junior high class in the late 1960s – meaning that on Wednesday afternoon, half of the class heads off to Temple Beth-El and the other half goes to Saint Adelbert’s Catholic Church, leaving just Holling and Mrs. Baker. And this is why, Holling believes, that Mrs. Baker hates him. What unfolds is in fact, a complex and interesting student-teacher relationship. Mrs. Baker introduces Holling to Shakespeare, much to his surprise. And he enjoys reading the Bard. He reads The Tempest, Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet. At one point he decides that Mrs. Baker must not have read Shakespeare, “It was surprising how much good stuff there was. A storm, attempted murders, witches, wizards, invisible spirits, characters drinking until they’re dead drunk….I figured that she hadn’t read it herself, otherwise she never would have let me at it.”
Holling learns quite a lot from his reading of Shakespeare, along with his other Wednesday afternoon escapades (cleaning animal cages, protecting prized cream puffs, dusting the chalk erasers….) and Mrs. Baker is the teacher he needs – showing up when his parents neglect him, saving him from his hungry-for-cream-puffs classmates, and teaching him lessons about Romeo & Juliet, relationships, hard work and having the courage to be yourself no matter what others around you think. The dynamic between Holling and Mrs. Baker is definitely one of the book’s strengths, and one of the reasons that adults will enjoy this book as much as the kids who laugh out loud at the antics of crazy junior high kids and critters on the loose above the classroom ceiling. Told with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the book also brings to light important moments as the young children are making sense of the adult world. The book touches not only on the Vietnam War, but also racism, bullying, missing soldiers and the importance of good friends and siblings. Highly recommended for middle grade students, their teachers, and anyone who loves a good laugh at a chalk covered cream puff!