Thursday, September 15, 2016

Reading Through History: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

From the moment Holling Hoodhood's seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, learns that he is Presbyterian and therefore does not attend religious instruction on Wednesday afternoons with his Jewish and Catholic classmates, Holling is convinced that she is out to get him. After several Wednesdays of doing odd jobs for Mrs. Baker, however, she begins teaching him Shakespeare. As they read through the plays and the months pass by, a genuine bond forms between teacher and student which influences many areas of both of their lives.

This book, which comes before Okay for Now, is everything a reader wants in a middle grade novel. The prose is by turns humorous and reflective, and Holling is a hero kids can believe in, even though he lives during the 1960s, because his concerns and interests are so recognizable and universal. It is truly Holling's voice, more than anything else, that carries this book, a fact which becomes especially clear when listening to the audiobook. I only listened to a small portion - the segment of the book in which Holling acts in a Shakespeare play and then must meet Mickey Mantle while still wearing a fairy costume - but hearing it read aloud in Holling's voice (performed beautifully by Joel Johnstone) really made the story come to life. That section may be the best-written passage in any middle grade novel of the last ten years; it's just perfect.

The Wednesday Wars is a school story and a family story, a story about the Vietnam war, and 1960s public schools, and a story of the importance of reading and the value of a great teacher. It resists any urge to talk down to the reader, or preach, or even hint at its message. Everything comes through in the telling of the story; because Schmidt is such a good writer, he never needs to spell out for readers what he wants them to think or feel. I can even forgive the ridiculous name of Holling Hoodhood because Schmidt makes it work.

Overall, this is a refreshingly well-written book with a wholesome family friendly feel, and the perfect mix of boyish humor and real raw emotion. Highly, highly recommended.


  1. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. LOL about forgiving Schmidt for the name Holling Hoodhood. Ha.

  2. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. LOL about forgiving Schmidt for the name Holling Hoodhood. Ha.