Book Review Blog, Episode Six – The Wednesday Wars.
Book Summary: Holling Hoodhood starts seventh grade in Long Island, New York, during 1967-1968 (Vietnam is the backdrop). The book gets its name because Holling’s classmates are either Catholic or Jewish, so they go to their respective churches for religious classes on Wednesday afternoons. Holling is a Presbyterian and does not have religious classes, so he is stuck with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. In the beginning he completes menial tasks, like clapping the chalk out of erasers, but eventually Mrs. Baker assigns several Shakespearean plays. After completing them, Holling and Mrs. Baker discuss them, and then he either takes a test or writes an essay over the play. Throughout the course of the school year, Holling reads multiple plays, gets a part in a community play, is made fun of by New York Yankee Mickey Mantle, meets and plays baseball with two nicer, classier New York Yankees, improves his relationship with his older sister, and finally learns to be his own person instead of what his father expects him to be.
APA Reference: Schmidt, G. D. (2009). The Wednesday wars. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.
Impressions: The Wednesday Wars starts off slowly, but then the characters develop and the story becomes compelling. The book is considered historical fiction, but I feel like the setting blends smoothly with the story because the author does not focus solely on the setting. The historical facts the author sprinkles in were fun to read and research in order to verify them, like the score of the Opening Day game between the Yankees and California Angels. My mom was around the same age as the protagonist in 1967-68, so I asked her about how accurately the author portrayed life for a seventh grader back then, and he succeeded in doing so. My mom described the duck and cover drills she would have to do for 15-20 minutes on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis, just like Holling. I want the facts in my historical fiction to be accurate, and the author did not disappoint. Despite the slow start, I really enjoyed the book and how it takes the reader through the lives of its characters through their highs and lows.
Professional Review: (2010, May 10) [Review of the book The Wednesday Wars, by G. D. Schmidt]. Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/
It’s 1967, and on Wednesdays, every Jewish kid in Holling Hoodhood’s class goes to Hebrew School, and every Catholic kid goes to Catechism. Holling is Presbyterian, which means that he and Mrs. Baker are alone together every Wednesday–and she hates it just as much as he does. What unfolds is a year of Wednesday Shakespeare study, which, says Mrs. Baker, “is never boring to the true soul.” Holling is dubious, but trapped. Schmidt plaits world events into the drama being played out at Camillo Junior High School, as well as plenty of comedy, as Holling and Mrs. Baker work their way from open hostility to a sweetly realized friendship. Holling navigates the multitudinous snares set for seventh-graders–parental expectations, sisters, bullies, girls–with wry wit and the knowledge that the world will always be a step or two ahead of him. Schmidt has a way of getting to the emotional heart of every scene without overstatement, allowing the reader and Holling to understand the great truths swirling around them on their own terms. It’s another virtuoso turn by the author of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (2005). (Fiction. 10-14)
Library Uses: Fact-checking. This book could be used with other historical fiction novels in order for students to fact-check them. The key events would probably have to be listed on a piece of paper in order to save time, but only by page numbers. The student opens the book to those pages, reads them, writes down the event/fact/statistic, and then researches it on the computer to make sure it’s accurate. It would be helpful to have books that aren’t historically accurate in order to show the importance of accuracy in historical fiction. The students could then present their findings to their classmates. This could be done in groups or individually.