Wednesday Wars (Schmidt)

Book Reviews
There are many strands in this story: the Vietnam War, air raid drills, missing soldiers, a classmate who is a Vietnamese refugee, a rescue, extreme humiliation, chalk-covered cream puffs, yellow tights with feathers in all the wrong places and a bully. In fact, so much happens I wondered whether all the seeds Schmidt planted could flower by the end. To his great credit, they do. Still, while The Wednesday Wars was one of my favorite books of the year, it wasn't written for me. Sometimes books that speak to adults miss the mark for their intended audience. To see if the novel would resonate as deeply with a child, I gave it to an avid but discriminating 10-year-old reader. His laughter, followed by repeated outbursts of "Listen to this!," answered my question.
Tanya Lee Stone - New York Times

Seventh grader, Holling Hoodhood is convinced that his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. After all, her folded arms and eyes that roll with unspoken sarcasm offer ample proof, right? When Holling, the lone Presbyterian, is left in the empty classroom on Wednesday afternoons as the other Jews and Catholics are bussed to religious instruction, real vengeance begins. Mrs. Baker requires Holling to read Shakespeare, not only in class, but aloud with her, and at home for discussion the following week. This bittersweet novel set during the days of the Vietnam conflict, peace marches, racial protests, and flower children rivals the immortal Bard for tragedy and comedy. Holling narrates, as readers assimilate the 60s, developing a fresh appreciation for a country at war from the voice of a memorable hero who is battling to discover himself. Schmidt, an award-winning author in his own right, combines the student-teacher relationships reminiscent of Andrew Clements' Frindle with the angst of the middle school individualist depicted in Sue Stauffacher's Donuthead, with original flare, unfolding the past at the pace of the present. This story interweaves the issues of the period with grace and power, resulting in historical fiction both entertaining and endearing.
Children's Literature

Seventh grader Holling Hoodhood lives in the Long Island suburbs in the Perfect House with his less-than-perfect, architect father, his subservient mother, and his flower-child sister. On Wednesday afternoon, half of his class leaves for Hebrew School at Temple Beth-El while the other half goes to catechism. Holling is the lone Presbyterian so he stays behind with his teacher, Ms. Baker, whom Holling knows hates him. She introduces him to the plays of William Shakespeare, an assignment that Holling assumes is punishment but which actually enhances his life. There is a lot going on in this novel not all related to the politics of the turbulent 1960s. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and the unpopular Vietnam War play a part in Holling's seventh grade year but so do two rats, Sycorax and Calliban, with their clacking yellow teeth; a part as Ariel in yellow tights; a track team; bullying and racism; a camping trip; and disappointment in a first love. Ms. Baker gently guides him through everything even as she brokenheartedly deals with the news that her husband is MIA. This novel is funny, warm, sad, and touching all at the same time. Holling Hoodhood will live with the reader for a very long time after he finishes seventh grade and learns "to thine self be true."

The year is 1967, and on Wednesday afternoons in Holling's Long Island, NY 7th-grade class, all the Catholic students go to Catechism, while all the Jewish students go to Hebrew school—leaving Holling, the only Presbyterian, alone with his teacher each week. He's convinced Mrs. Baker hates him: she has him reading Shakespeare, after all. Which leads to his role as Ariel in a community production of The Tempest and to possibly the most embarrassing newspaper photo of all time, of Holling in yellow tights with feathers on the rear, which of course is posted all over the school. Other amusing incidents involve rats gone AWOL, an encounter with Mickey Mantle, and joining the track team. But as wise Mrs. Baker notes, "Comedies are much more than funny," and this wonderful novel about the miseries and miracles of Holling's 12th year offers more than just belly laughs. The Vietnam War is a backdrop to life at Camillo Junior High: a Vietnamese orphan is in their class, while Mrs. Baker's soldier husband is missing in action. Holling's 16-year-old sister dreams of being a flower child and runs away, and Holling must come to her rescue. Acclaimed author Schmidt's warmth and understanding shine through on every page, along with his humor (one boy can "cuss the yellow off a school bus") and his gift for creating memorable characters: he may remind readers of Jerry Spinelli or Richard Peck. Not to be missed—this is a marvelous read, both achingly funny and deeply affecting.

It's 1967, and on Wednesdays, every Jewish kid in Holling Hoodhood's class goes to Hebrew School, and every Catholic kid goes to Catechism. Holling is Presbyterian, which means that he and Mrs. Baker are alone together every Wednesday—and she hates it just as much as he does. What unfolds is a year of Wednesday Shakespeare study, which, says Mrs. Baker, "is never boring to the true soul." Holling is dubious, but trapped. Schmidt plaits world events into the drama being played out at Camillo Junior High School, as well as plenty of comedy, as Holling and Mrs. Baker work their way from open hostility to a sweetly realized friendship. Holling navigates the multitudinous snares set for seventh-graders—parental expectations, sisters, bullies, girls—with wry wit and the knowledge that the world will always be a step or two ahead of him. Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms. It's another virtuoso turn by the author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

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