The Wednesday Wars

by Gary D. Schmidt (2007)

The Wednesday Wars is one of the richest books Read to Them has ever offered.

A young man navigates 7th grade on Long Island in 1967/1968 America…

Among his classmates are friends, foes, and even girls.  There’s Doug Swieteck – who boasts 410 different ways of wreaking revenge on teachers.  And Meryl Lee Kowalski, about whom the narrator observes, “Love and hate are never far away in 7th grade.”

At home, his father is absorbed in his competitive architectural practice and his sister is absorbed in protesting the Vietnam War.

At school, he fears the notorious Mrs. Baker, famous for her dedication and obsession with William Shakespeare.  The narrator, who goes by the unlikely name of Holling Hoodhood, eventually comes to appreciate both Mrs. Baker and even Shakespeare, starting with his curses.

Gary D. Schmidt has created a Newbery Honor book that weaves these elements into an ever more complex tapestry.  Holling’s narrative voice is candid, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes rueful, but always engaging and true, carrying the reader through rewarding chapters that narrate long, twisting tragicomic lessons.

While Holling worries about 7th grade – and class pets, and cream puffs, and Shakespeare costumes, and the cross country team, and Mickey Mantle, and Valentine’s Day – the world around him worries about architecture proposals and the Vietnam War.

Schmidt manages to let the Vietnam War, and the other tragic events of 1968 (the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy), form a backdrop to what remains a winning adolescent story.

The Wednesday Wars is continually funny and touching, while filled with rich pointillist details that will animate a wide range of middle school tastes and interests.  Every reader will discover favorite moments, lines, and characters. 

As a middle school title, it can also invite schools, if you choose, to use details in the book to explore history (the Battle of Khe Sanh) and Shakespeare (from quotations to plays), and even stimulate novel writing exercises (Holling juxtaposes Shakespeare snippets ‘because he likes the rhythm of it’).

A book this rich offers middle schools an equally wide range of opportunities – to excite readers, to trade common details, to discuss personalities and thorny questions, and to share the challenging and uplifting emotions of rewarding literature.