The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Schmidt, Gary D.. 2007. The Wednesday Wars. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 9780618724833

 

Despite the humorous chalk drawing on the cover, The Wednesday Wars, is not about a seventh-grade boy who hates Shakespeare.  In fact, Holling Hoodhood discovers he likes Shakespeare almost as much as he likes Treasure Island.  Instead, it is a novel that shows history through the eyes of a young teen.  Kids (for the sake of this post, teens are also kids) don’t usually worry about the big picture.  To Holling, teachers, like Mrs. Baker, are just teachers.  They were born as teachers.  It is the little things that drive their world and, inadvertently, make them aware of the world around them.  For example, when Mickey Mantle refused to sign Holling’s ball because Holling was still in his yellow tights from playing the part of Ariel in The Tempest, one of Holling’s gods died.  The following paragraph from page 93 is an example of what I mean by the little things inadvertently expanding a child’s world:

“When gods die, they die hard. It’s not like they fade away, or grow old, or fall asleep.  They die in fire and pain, and when they come out of you, they leave your guts burned.  It hurts more than anything you can talk about.  And maybe worse of all is, you’re not sure if there will ever be another god to fill their place.  You don’t want fire to go out inside you twice.”

Despite the fact that this first person narrative can be confusing, for example, the reader does not immediately learn Holling’s first name (or his sister’s until the very end), it is a fun read.  While at first glance, The Wednesday Wars is plot driven, it doesn’t take long to realize the quiet drive behind all of the children, Mrs. Baker, and Mrs. Bigio.  Holling’s parents are the direct contrast.  They are unchanged throughout the course of the novel.  The first time you meet Mr. Hoodhood, he is concerned with how his son’s relationships with anyone will affect the family architectural firm.  You know because his family will not attend Holling’s premiere on stage because Bing Crosby’s Christmas special is on, that they will not turn up at his cross-country race.  Holling, however, goes from being the boy who will inherit Hoodhood and Associates because it is expected, to the boy who makes his own decisions, such as cashing in his savings bond so he can wire money to Minneapolis, where his sister is stranded.

To an adult, the setting of 1967 is easily apparent.  From Walter Cronkite’s reports from Vietnam to the Volkswagen with flowers on it, Schmidt leaves sings of the time everywhere.  However, even to a seventh-grader, 1967 is as foreign as a fantasy world (especially depending on how far they have actually gotten in US History).  That being said, there are familiar landmarks.  Coke, despite the bottle, and baseball are the same.  Seventh-graders still dread Shakespeare.  Valentine’s Day is confusing.  Siblings are still important, even when they are being jerks.

Mrs. Baker makes the comment to Holling that,

“‘People like to think that if they’re prepared, then nothing bad can really happen.  And perhaps we practice because we feel as if there’s nothing else we can do, because sometimes it feels as if life is governed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.'”

These two sentences seem to sum up the feeling of the time.

 

Awards:

Newbery Honor 2008

Cibil Award 2007

Cuffies: Children’s Booksellers Choose Their Favorite (and not-so-favorite) Books of the Year, 2007: Winner Best Novel for Young Readers That Adults Would Love if They Knew About It United States

 

Reviews:

BookList-“Seamlessly, he knits together the story’s themes: the cultural uproar of the ’60s, the internal uproar of early adolescence, and the timeless wisdom of Shakespeare’s words. Holling’s unwavering, distinctive voice offers a gentle, hopeful, moving story of a boy who, with the right help, learns to stretch beyond the limitations of his family, his violent times, and his fear, as he leaps into his future with his eyes and his heart wide open.”

Publisher’s Weekly-“Schmidt…delivers another winner here, convincingly evoking 1960s Long Island, with Walter Cronkite’s nightly updates about Vietnam as the soundtrack. The serious issues are leavened with ample humor, and the supporting cast—especially the wise and wonderful Mrs. Baker—is fully dimensional. Best of all is the hero, who shows himself to be more of a man than his authoritarian father. Unlike most Vietnam stories, this one ends happily, as Schmidt rewards the good guys with victories that, if not entirely true to the period, deeply satisfy”

 

Engberg, Gillian. 2007. BookList. v.103, no.19. Accessed via CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=2&isbn=9780618724833

Publishers Weekly. Accessed vie CLCD http://ezproxy.twu.edu:4529/index.php/bookdetail/index?page=1&pos=2&isbn=9780618724833

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