Wednesday, June 24, 2020

71. The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars. Gary D. Schmidt. 2007. 264 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: 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. And let me tell you, it wasn't for anything I'd done. If it had been Doug Swieteck that Mrs. Baker hated, it would have made sense. Doug Swieteck once made up a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. It began with "Spray deodorant in all her desk drawers" and got worse as it went along. A whole lot worse. I think that things became illegal around Number 167. You don't want to know what Number 400 was, and you really don't want to know what Number 410 was. But I'll tell you this much: They were the kinds of things that sent kids to juvenile detention homes in upstate New York, so far away that you never saw them again.

Premise/plot: Holling Hoodhood is the narrator of this lovely coming of age novel set in 1967/1968 in New York. The book chronicles his seventh grade year focusing on his life at home and school. Every Wednesday as the other students go to either special studies at their church or synagogue (temple?), Mrs. Baker and Holling have the classroom to themselves. At first she puts him to WORK cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. But later she decides to work his mind instead, every single month they study a different Shakespeare play. At home, their family is feeling the tension of conflicting ideas over politics and the War.

My thoughts: I loved, loved, loved, loved this one. It had me at hello. I love Holling's narrative. The book is packed with humor and heart. I think this is a book that could appeal to anyone and everyone. If you have a special fondness for teachers that play a role in *inspiring* and *changing* young lives, I think you will love, love, love The Wednesday Wars. Equally, if you love fiction that depicts the challenges and struggles that all families face, I think you'll love The Wednesday Wars. It has a little bit of something for everyone: friendship, first crushes, family squabbles, school, prejudice. One of my favorite aspects about this novel is that it does so much. It addresses meaning-of-life issues in a way that is both serious, realistic, but it captures life's funny moments as well. It has it all.

We spent the afternoon with English for You and Me, learning how to diagram sentences--as if there was some reason why anyone in the Western Hemisphere needed to know how to do this. One by one, Mrs. Baker called us to the blackboard to try our hand at it. Here's the sentence she gave to Meryl Lee:
The brook flows down the pretty mountain.
Here's the sentences she gave to Danny Hupfer:
He kicked the round ball into the goal.
Here's the sentence she gave to Mai Thi:
The girl walked home.
This was so short because it used about a third of Mai Thi's English vocabulary, since she'd only gotten here from Vietnam during the summer.
Here's the sentence she gave to Doug Swieteck:
I read a book.
There was a different reason why his sentence was so short--never mind that it was a flat-out lie on Doug Swieteck's part.
Here's the sentence she gave me:
For it so falls out, that what we have we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it; but being lacked and lost, why, then we rack the value, then we find the virtue that possession would not show us while it was ours.
No native speaker of the English language could diagram this sentence. The guy who wrote it couldn't diagram this sentence. I stood at the blackboard as hopeless as a seventh-grade kid could be. (17-18)
 That night, I read Treasure Island again, and I don't want to brag, but I've read Treasure Island four times and Kidnapped twice and The Black Arrow twice. I even read Ivanhoe halfway through before I gave up, since I started The Call of the Wild and it was a whole lot better. (9)

That's the teacher gene at work, giving its bearer an extra sense. It's a little frightening. Maybe that's how people decide to become teachers. They have that extra sense, and once they have it, and know that they have it, they don't have any choice except to become a teacher. (60)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

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