93 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2007
I could tell you all of the wonderful things I love about this book, but I'll tell you the two things that have most convinced me that this is a great book worth reading.
I am reading this aloud to my high school sophomores on Fridays. Their reactions:
1) They laugh out loud while I'm reading the story.
2) They beg me to read more and talk about it on other days of the week, and have told me they like it.
If that's not a ringing endorsement for a book, I don't know what is.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2007
War may be raging in Vietnam, but Holling has his own battles to fight. When the rest of his class leaves for Hebrew school or Catechism every Wednesday afternoon, he's stuck in class with the fearsome Mrs. Baker, who's either out to murder him or slowly torture him with Shakespeare. Add in a pair of pet rats gone wild, an ill-fated cream puff incident, and an unfortunate pair of tights with feathers on the you-know-what, and you've got a masterful story full of schoolyard scrapes and a surprising core of heart that grabs hold and won't let go.
123 of 153 people found the following review helpful
Praise, like profanity, has to be doled out carefully. If a reviewer is a particularly enthusiastic sort (ahem!) and prefers to lavish cuddles and kisses on every book that crosses their plate then what exactly are they supposed to do when something truly extraordinary appears before them? Use up all your good stuff too early in the season and you've nothing left. Fortunately for me, I took precautions. I've been on permanent Newbery Lookout this year. Anything and everything that might be a contender, I've snatched up mighty quick in the hopes of getting some early buzz going. And while it's been a nice year, I think everyone will agree that the Spring 2007 season has turned out to be fairly so-so. Nobody is talking about any books with any real passion quite yet. That is, until whispers started to surround "The Wednesday Wars" by Gary Schmidt. Whispers. Murmurs. Over-exaggerated winks accompanied by sharp elbow pokes to the ribcage. So when I finally managed to get my sticky little hands on a copy I had to do the standard Reviewer Cleansing of the Mind. I had to tell myself soothing things before I began along the lines of, "It's okay if you don't like it. Forget all the people who've already loved it. Clear your mind. Expand your soul. Breathe." Then I picked it up and forgot all of that. Good? Brother, you don't know the meaning of the word till you read this puppy. For those of you out there who think Gary D. Schmidt was done robbed ROBBED of a Newbery for his, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, I think we've found ourselves something new to root for.
Mrs. Baker hates Holling Hoodhood. There's no two ways about it, as far as he can tell. From the minute he entered her classroom she had it in for him and he's trying not to become paranoid. Now because half the kids in his class are Jewish and half Catholic, every Wednesday Holling (a Protestant through and through) is stuck alone with Mrs. Baker while the other kids go to Hebrew School or Catechism for the afternoon. And what has this evil genius dreamt up for our poor young hero? Shakespeare. He has to read it and get tested on it regularly with the intention (Holling is sure) of boring him to death. The thing is, Holling kind of gets to like the stuff. Meanwhile, though, he has to deal with wearing yellow tights butt-gracing feathers, avoiding killer rats and his older sister, and deciding what to do about Meryl Lee Kowalski, "who has been in love with me since she first laid eyes on me in the third grade," amongst other things. Set during the school year of 1967-68 against a backdrop of Vietnam and political strife, Holling finds that figuring out who you are goes above and beyond what people want you to become.
Oh sure. I liked it. I'm also 28 with an MLIS degree and an apartment in Manhattan. I am not your average child reader. And when a lot of people think of children's books they think of quality literature that bored the socks off of them when they were kids. So the real question you have to consider here is, is this a book for kids or adults? Well, I'm no kid, but I tell you plain that I would have loved "Wednesday Wars" when I was twelve. Not that it would have been an obvious choice. First of all, it's a boy book. Boy protagonist. Boy topics like pranks and escaped rodentia and baseball. But like all great literature (oh yeah, I said it) everyone who reads this thing will find themselves simultaneously challenged and engrossed. First of all, Schmidt exhibits a sense of humor here that was downplayed in "Lizzie Bright". It's not fair to compare these two books, of course. I mean, suburban kid living on Long Island verses 1912 racially segregated Maine. Which is going to be more of a laugh riot? But funny is what gets kids reading and funny is what this book is. The clever author always knows when to downplay the humor and work in the more serious elements, but when you ask yourself why a kid would choose one title over another, nine times out of ten the kid is going to grab the book that will make them laugh AND think over the one that'll just make `em think (and snore).
And I love so many of the concepts here. The community in which this book takes place is equally divided between Catholics and Jews, with Holling Hoodhood the odd Presbyterian out. Certainly not everything is sunshine and roses here, but it's a pretty good situation and the kids make do the best they can. Of course, due to the nature of different religions and churches, the only time these kids can get together for a good baseball game is Sunday afternoon. Schmidt's attention to details like this half make you wonder what percentage of the book was based on fact and how much of it was made up. After all, it takes place on Long Island and Mr. Schmidt grew up there during this era. Surely he also knew someone who had a list of the 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. Or maybe someone close to him in the seventh grade could beat all the eighth graders on the Varsity track team. Still, wherever he's getting the material, I hope he never runs out. This stuff is pure gold.
Shakespeare works as an ideal transition between the different adventures going on in Holling's life. Unfortunately, since I know my Shakespeare, I can't say whether or not a kid who's never heard of MacBeth or The Tempest is going to understand Holling's allusions and mentions. Then again, Shakespeare is so beloved because his works may be interpreted on multiple levels. Maybe the connections don't require knowledge of the original material. Schmidt makes the integration of Shakespeare and historical middle grade fiction a kind of seamless alliance. He doesn't push it. How easy it would have been to assign each month in this book a play and then wrap the storyline around Shakespeare's already existing dramas. Instead, plays do pop up almost every month, but they complement rather than direct the action. Schmidt doesn't go for obvious choices either. He doesn't end with "The Tempest". He practically begins with it. And when he does end with "Much Ado About Nothing," what you remember best is the figure of Don Pedro standing all alone while everyone dances happily into the sunset.
There is also a healthy heaping of redemption in this book. Where abused frightened teachers come back as conquering school board members, ready to take down enormous scary rats if required to do so. Where villains like Doug Swieteck's brother (that's all the name we ever get for that boy) will pull a horrendous prank on you one day, then turn it all around to anonymously praise you in a similar fashion the next. Not everyone is redeemed. Holling's father remains as stiff and intransigent as ever by the story's close. You can see how he may easily lose everyone he loves through the force of his inflexibility, but if he's going to undergo a change it may have to happen in the sequel (*hint*, Mr. Schmidt, *hint*).
Vietnam never really stopped as a subject of children's literature, but with the Iraq War (as of this review) still in full swing, we're seeing a distinct upsurge in titles focused on that area of the world. There is, for example, Cracker!: The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata, amongst others. And that's all well and good, but even if you want someone to, a good author doesn't preach. They don't get all didactic for the sake of bandying about their own opinion on one topic or another. The Vietnam we see in this book affects everyone in this story, even if it's just tangentially. Schmidt doesn't overplay his hand, though he comes close with the character of Mai Thi, a Vietnamese kid brought over by the Catholic Relief Agency. Since this isn't Mai Thi's story, we can only see brief instances where she suffers abuse because of her ethnicity, and her happy ending seems a bit forced.
And on some level, critics are going to find themselves torn over the multiple happy endings in this book. Nothing is perfect all the time, but more often than not Schmidt wraps up loose ends and rewards his heroes in a deeply satisfying manner. Holling could easily have fallen into the trap of being one of those perpetually put upon schlubs that never get the girl, never learn, and never grow. But Holling does grow. He grows and he changes and he becomes the man his father may never be. And if there is happiness in this book, it would take a pretty sorry soul to begrudge Holling his much deserved kudos. Maybe it's fantastical to believe that a kid who can act Shakespeare and rescue his sister would also be a great track runner and a generally fabulous human being, but that's the way the story goes, folks. Like it or lump it.
Writing is one thing. One-liners another entirely. I'm just going to put these before you for your consideration, out of context, but still funny.
"To ask your big sister to be your ally is like asking Nova Scotia to go into battle with you."
"Mr. [Principal] Guareschi's long ambition had been to become dictator of a small country. Danny Hupfer said that he had been waiting for the CIA to get rid of Fidel Castro and then send him down to Cuba, which Mr. Guareschi would then rename Guareschiland. Meryl Lee said that he was probably holding out for something in Eastern Europe."
"The rest of that afternoon, we both held our feet up off the floor and took turns reading parts from `The Merchant of Venice' - even though the print was made for tiny insects with multiple eyes and all the pictures in the book were ridiculous."
"She then raised her hands and waved them grandly, and we began a medley from `The Sound of Music' - which is the vocal equivalent of eating too much chocolate."
Few books that I read make me want to then immediately find the audiobook as well, but "Wednesday Wars" is one of the few. It looks as if Scholastic Audio Books was the smartie who got the bid on this pup. My congratulations go out to them. I will be locating a copy of your work the minute it becomes available because if there is anything more delicious than reading a book of this nature it's hearing it read aloud. If you happen to be a fifth, sixth, or even seventh or eighth grade teacher and you're allowed a little readaloud time, please consider giving this book a shot. The only thing better than hearing this book on CD would be to watch your own teacher giving voice to Mrs. Baker's sarcasm and heart.
What can kids do to face a scary future where so much is unknown and frightening? Mrs. Baker gives Holling a piece of advice in the book that should be treasured and remembered. "Learn everything you can - everything. And then use all that you have learned to be a wise and good man." Kids today, reading this book, can take heart in Holling's struggle and growth, while just happening to get a laugh out of this pup along the way. Emotions come honestly when you're in this author's hands. Chrysanthemum, Mr. Schmidt.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
After now reading THE WEDNESDAY WARS three times, it remains for me the book of the year and my pick for the next Newbery Medal.
"Toads, beetles, bats, light on you!"
In September of 1967, in the suburbs of Long Island, Holling Hoodhood begins seventh grade at Camillo Junior High. Holling happens to be the only Presbyterian student in Mrs. Baker's class, and so on Wednesday afternoons, "when at 1:45 sharp, half of my class went to Hebrew School at Temple Beth-El, and, at 1:55, the other half went to Catechism at Saint Adelbert's," Mrs. Baker finds herself responsible for dealing with her one remaining student.
Holling, who believes Mrs. Baker hates him because of this situation, spends that first month's Wednesday afternoons completing classroom chores that his teacher assigns him. "The Wednesdays of September passed in a cloudy haze of chalk dust." But, after hilarious and unintended consequences result from Holling's missteps in carrying out several of his assigned tasks, Mrs. Baker decides to shift gears and spend subsequent Wednesday afternoons "doing" Shakespeare with her student.
It turns out that there are also hilarious and unintended consequences that result from this new course of action. For while Holling undertakes his experiencing of the Bard with the belief that, "Teachers bring up Shakespeare only to bore students to death," it turns out that he recognizes some terrific stories when he reads them and -- thanks to Caliban -- recognizes some great new (old) curses which he sets to practicing until, in times of great adversity, they leap as naturally from his tongue as do the phrases that are more commonly heard amongst today's young rapper wannabes:
"She put her red pen down. 'Since there are only two of us in the room -- a situation which has become very familiar to us these past months -- and since you were speaking, I assumed that you must be addressing me. What did you say?'
" 'Mr. Hoodhood, what did you say?'
" 'Strange stuff, the dropsy drown you.'
"Mrs. Baker considered me for a moment. 'Was that what you said?'
" 'A curious line to repeat, especially since the combination never occurs in the play. Are you trying to improve on Shakespeare?'
" 'I like the rhythm of it,' I said.
" 'The rhythm of it.'
Mrs. Baker considered this for a moment. Then she nodded. 'So do I,' she said, and turned back to spreading the red plague.
"That had been close."
While all of this makes for a truly delightful and zany tale, my description to this point merely scratches the surface of what Gary Schmidt has accomplished, for THE WEDNESDAY WARS is a profound story of change and of heroes, a story that hit me hard in the gut and is, unquestionably, one of the best books I have read in years.
Admittedly, some of my reaction to THE WEDNESDAY WARS results from the fact that I, like Holling Hoodhood, was a suburban Long Island seventh grader during the 1967-68 school year. This was a school year that, for me, began in innocence with my ongoing immersion in the Monkees and New York Top 40 radio at a time that the Summer of Love was happening across the country in my future home. It was a school year that began, in September 1967, at a point in my life when I'd been strongly influenced by The Church, the Boy Scouts, and the just-ended summertime days that I'd spent with the All-American, beer-drinking, blue-collar sages on Dad's construction sites.
It was a school year that came to include night after night after night of television news reports that showed shooting and bombing on the other side of the world, accompanied by body bags of American kids stacked up daily like so many cords of wood. It was a school year that ended, in 1968, with the murders of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
For me and for America this was a school year of unprecedented change. And, having been there, I can state in no uncertain terms that through the ten chapters of THE WEDNESDAY WARS -- each one named for the successive months that constitute that school year -- Gary Schmidt both impeccably portrays those times and then relentlessly, and sometimes excruciatingly, injects those times into the hearts of his characters' lives:
"And that was when Mrs. Bigio came into the classroom. Actually, she didn't quite come in. She opened the door and stood leaning against the doorway, one hand up to her mouth, the other trembling on the doorknob.
"Mrs. Baker stood. 'Oh, Edna, did they find him?'
"Mrs. Bigio nodded.
" 'And is he...'
"Mrs. Bigio opened her mouth, but the only sounds that came out were the sounds of sadness. I can't tell you what they sounded like. But you know them when you hear them.
"Mrs. Baker sprinted out from behind her desk and gathered Mrs. Bigio in her arms. She helped Mrs. Bigio to her own chair where she slumped down like someone who had nothing left in her.
" 'Mr. Hoodhood, you may go home now, ' Mrs. Baker said.
"But I will never forget those sounds."
The times also strike home for Holling as he witnesses the dinnertime war that is initiated between his father and his older, high school-attending sister when she appears at the dinner table with a flower painted on her face and fresh ideas of peace and love planted in her mind. Hollings' father, whose rationale for virtually everything he says and does is governed by his strategizing to gain new contracts for his architectural firm, will stand for nothing of the sort:
" 'Thank you, Miss Political Analyst,' said my father. 'Now analyze this: The person to whom you are now speaking is a candidate for the Chamber of Commerce Businessman of 1967. This is also an honor that will lead to larger, more profitable ventures than he has yet seen. It is not an honor that is awarded to a man who has a daughter who calls herself a flower child. So go wash your face.' "
For Holling Hoodhood, the 1967-68 school year is a time of old heroes (and fat rats) falling and new heroes ascending. Four decades later, reverberations of that year's events are still keenly felt in America's politics and cultural wars. In THE WEDNESDAY WARS, Gary Schmidt provides readers with an unlikely young hero and an unmatched taste of a time that a-changed everything.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2007
This is a marvelous book that I read in two sittings in about five hours. Schmidt has created unforgettable characters who live in readers' memories long after they finish the book. Look for Doug Swietek's brother. The book is also full of unforgettable images. Look for Holling Hoodhood's hilarious part as a fairy/warrior in a Shakespeare production. It's a story with real multi-dimensional characters confronting situations as contemporary as this morning's newspaper.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Oddly, THE WEDNESDAY WARS is probably going to appeal more to adults who came of age in the 50s and 60s than it is to young adults. And oddly, despite a lot of positive writing, the overall story will, at times, drag for younger readers -- especially if they are in the "reluctant reader" category.
Let's start with what's good about this novel: It's clean, wholesome, charming, and one might even say, quaint. Although set in the turbulent years of 1967-68 on Long Island, the book seems more like a snapshot out of the 50's -- all Eisenhower tranquility, all "Leave It to Beaver" good fun. Yes, there's mention of Vietnam, nuclear bomb drills at school, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, but it's more in name than in spirit and remains stubbornly remote from the story and the characters themselves (except for protagonist Holling Hoodhood's older sister, the lightly-sketched Heather, who is a Kennedy fan).
I liked the humorous tone, the plot's use of Shakespeare (poor 7th-grader Holling must memorize parts of the Bard's work during Wednesday afterschool sessions), and the character of Mrs. Baker -- the prototypical "teacher we all remember throughout life." What threw me was the character of Holling. He's way too mature and precocious for his age. In the one moment of family crisis, he acts wise WAY beyond his years and acts like a seasoned father, not a 7th-grade kid. His interests, words, and opinions? Also very adult-ish, despite Schmidt's game inclusion of such hijinks as 8th graders wanting to beat him up because he wears tights in a Shakespeare scene and because he outruns his elder classmen in a track meet.
Bottom line: if you like charming, if you like books about memorable teachers, or if you like the 50s (as projected in the 60s), you probably will love this nicely written ode to youth (or at least "a good boy's youth"). If you like your YA a little edgier, a little more realistic to its time, setting, character, then you might smell the professor-writer in all of this and wonder if it misses its full potential. In that sense, reaction to the book may say as much about you as it does the book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2008
Wow! If I could give this book 6 stars-I would. I have read lots of middle school books, and yes a few have been excellent. This one was nearly impossible for me to put down. The book was so funny in parts, that I had a difficult time trying to stop laughing. Other parts were exciting, touching, a bit sad, and very thought provoking. Yes, this book is easy to read, but not at all shallow by any stretch of the imagination. It really has a lot to say, but does it in a subtle non-preachy way.
I think anyone grades 5 or up would love this book. The book is told through the eyes of a 7th grade boy, and it is comes across so real it is impossible not to have a connection with this character. You don't have to be a middle school teacher or an avid reader to love this book. It is one of those very few books that knocks down all walls and invites all readers to enter.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2010
As if junior high wasn't bad enough, Holling Hoodhood (yes, that's really his name)is the only Presbyterian in his class, and every Wednesday he's stuck with his teacher for an hour while the rest of his class goes to synagogue or mass. Rats, races, Vietnam, teen angst, and Shakespeare are woven in to the story of their Wednesday wars, reminding us all of what it's like to be 14 and that our ending really can be happy, but only if we make it that way.
A great read, with laughs and cries intermingled throughout with Shakespeare's most timeless tales. Please read it, and share it.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2007
Meet Holling Hoodhood. He is entering seventh grade. There's nothing too scary about it since he's known most of his classmates forever. There are a few bullies and a few annoying ones, but overall, Holling is looking forward to a new year. Unfortunately, the first Wednesday of the new year reveals a not-so-pleasant surprise.
Every Wednesday afternoon beginning just before 2:00pm everyone leaves his classroom. That is, everyone except Holling and Mrs. Baker. What happens is, the Catholic half of the class is taken by bus to attend Catechism class, and the Jewish half of the class goes to Hebrew School at the temple. Since the Hoodhood family attends the Presbyterian Church, Holling stays put in the classroom.
Needless to say, Holling realizes quite quickly that Mrs. Baker is rather disappointed. If all the students were to leave on Wednesday afternoons, she would have a peaceful chunk of time to catch up on grading papers and making lesson plans. Alas, Mrs. Baker must find ways to occupy Holling instead. There are days when Holling is pretty certain that Mrs. Baker hates him.
Typical Holling-type chores include cleaning the erasers, washing the chalkboard, cleaning the cage of the classroom's pet rats, and doing extra worksheets. One afternoon when Holling was preparing for his usual Wednesday assignment, Mrs. Baker surprised him with a new idea. He was going to begin reading Shakespeare. Soon, Wednesday afternoons become quite interesting.
In addition to the classroom elements of the story, readers get an inside view of life in the Hoodhood home. Holling's father is an ambitious architect, his mother is an obedient housewife, and his sister is a "flower child" out to change the Vietnam-era world.
Gary D. Schmidt presents the world of middle school in THE WEDNESDAY WARS. Every student's nightmare and every teacher's dream - one-on-one instruction. Schmidt fills the pages with sentence diagramming, vicious yellow-toothed rats, luscious cream puffs, chalk dust, yellow tights with feathered bottoms, as well as serious subjects like Shakespeare, architecture, politics, the Vietnam War, and growing up in the 60's.
Readers, young and old alike, are sure to fall in love with Holling's story.
Reviewed by: Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky"
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
"The Wednesday Wars" is my first Gary Schmidt book. Apparently, I've made mistakes in my reading selections - what an oversight!
Holling Hoodhood is a seventh-grader in Long Island, New York during the 1967-68 school year. He lives in the Perfect House, completely in the mid-point between the Catholic and Jewish sides of town, with his Presbyterian family. Dad is a distant architect, Mom is a quietly-struggling neglected spouse, and Big Sister (Heather) is a teenager coping with her growing knowledge of the inadequacies of everything outside of rock and roll. His family barely tolerates him, his classmates mock him, and his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates his guts.
So Holling appears to be a normal seventh-grader.
The book's title comes from Holling's weekly afternoon sessions he spends with Mrs. Baker as the Catholic and Jewish kids go off to their respective religious observances. What begins as a march through student hell (accidents involving rats, erasers, and cream puffs ensue) quickly develops into a powerful coming-of-age story as Holling learns about love, life, and Shakespeare (not necessarily in that order).
I'll spare any plot recap and focus on the odd juxtaposition of plot, setting, and target audience. Most stories about seventh-graders are aimed at the "Young Adult" audience, and "The Wednesday Wars" definitely feels that way in sections. But by setting the book during 1968, Schmidt throws the reader into the chaotic world of nuclear war, Vietnam, racism, social upheaval (flower children), and even assassination (Bobby Kennedy and MLK). Holling and his mates are coming of age at a spectacularly unsettling time in American history - will today's YA audience appreciate the gravity of the times? Schmidt doesn't load the book up with lots of exposition - but the impact of the times is clear on Holling.
As someone who has a reasonably grounded appreciation of 1968 (even though it was slightly before my time), I could not put this book down once it got going. The laughs and tears - yes, tears - came fast and furious during the second half of the book, and I re-read several passages out of sheer delight.
You will adore this book.