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, Holling Hoodhood, navigates 7th grade on Long Island in 1967/1968 America…

At home, his father is absorbed in his competitive architectural practice, his sister is consumed by protesting the Vietnam War, and his mother is trying to maintain some semblance of peace.

At school, he fears the notorious Mrs. Baker, famous for her dedication to instruction and her obsession with William Shakespeare.  Holling eventually comes to appreciate both Mrs. Baker and Shakespeare, starting with the Bard’s infamous curses.  Among his classmates are friends and foes.  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 in seventh grade are not far apart.”

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 is in tumult.  Gary D. 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), support the plot while remaining true to the voice of Holling and his winning adolescent story.

Schmidt has created a Newbery Honor book that weaves these disparate 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.

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 invite schools to use details in the book to explore history (the Battle of Khesanh) and Shakespeare (from quotations to plays).  Holling’s journey also provides a springboard for innovative writing exercises, including following Holling’s lead and juxtaposing Shakespeare snippets to explore “the rhythm of it.”

A book this rich offers middle schools an 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.  

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