The Wednesday Wars (by Gary D. Schmidt)

28 12 2012

wednesdaywarsGary D. Schmidt is a two-time Newbery Honor winner. Given that he also has a Printz Honor on his long résumé, he’d be the foremost author to ask what it takes to score with award committees across the board. If The Wednesday Wars is anything to go by, though, it is probably a combination of wholesome characters, lots of cross-over appeal and an eagerness to show the contemporary relevance of history.

It’s 1967 and Holling Hoodhood is probably the unluckiest 7th grader on Long Island. On Wednesday afternoon, his classmates are off doing religious studies, while he’s stuck with his teacher Mrs Baker who hates his guts: “If your last name ended in ‘berg’ or ‘zog’ or ‘stein,’ you lived on the north side. If your last name ended in ‘elli’ or ‘ini’ or ‘o,’ you lived on the south side.” So half of the kids his class are off to Hebrew school, while the the rest of the kinds are attending Catholic school. Holling’s Perfect House, though, is smack in the middle of town, also making him the only Presbyterian in his class, hence the getting stuck with Mrs Baker part of his life. She makes him do chores, like cleaning the class rats’ cages (a job that ends rather badly with Sycorax and Caliban escaping and running havoc throughout the novel!) and (the horror!) read Shakespeare!  After an unfortunate event involving said rats and cream puffs, Holling ends up having to play fairy Ariel in a local theatre production of The Tempest wearing yellow tights with white feathers on his butt!  Now, I don’t know about you, but any author who can make Shakespeare laugh out loud funny, and who can mock The Bard the way Holling does… gets an extra star from the cat, because Shakespeare and the cat = not the best of friends!

The Wednesday Wars is the smart type of Historical Fiction. Although the time is clearly 1967 – the Vietnam war, Bobby Kennedy, Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees, all play a pivotal role in the book – what makes this book so enjoyable (even despite the historical references) is the humor that permeates the entire book. Schmidt is a master story-teller who paints an almost perfect picture of a family that isn’t so perfect despite them living in The Perfect House, and a boy who is still innocent enough to tell things as he sees them. The slightly skewed point of view (is there any other??) here is key to the charm of this book.

The Wednesday Wars is also a book that has to grow on you. It’s almost deceptively sweet and innocent, which is probably why lots of reviewers think this is more of a book for grown ups, than a book for middle graders. Toads, beetles, bats. This is a book that has lots and lots of layers, only one of which is “the history”. A kid at 10 will love the way Holling tries to outsmart Mrs Baker regarding the Shakespeare, or when the rats escape, or the cream puffs fiasco, or the…  A teen at 15 will totally get the relationship Holling has with his father, and the relationship his sister has with his father. And a grown up at 25 or 35 or 45 will get yet other things out of this book. The Wednesday Wars is a book for all ages. Chrysanthemum!

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8 04 2013
Okay for Now (by Gary D. Schmidt) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] D. Schmidt is soon becoming a cat favorite. His The Wednesday Wars was refreshing in its almost classic – some would even call this old-fashioned – […]

26 08 2013
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (by Jacqueline Kelly) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] one at all. If you want Newbery Honor material with a historical slant with real characters: get Gary D. Schmidt’s stuff and he’ll even throw in some […]

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