Started October 2, 2015
Finished October 4, 2015
*Category/Genre: *Award Winner, *2 by the same author, *Historical fiction
Themes: Coming of Age, Character, Knowledge vs. Ignorance, War, Heroism, Acceptance
Rating: 5 Stars
Age/Interest Range: 5th grade and up
Holling Hoodhood is as original as his name, and “let me tell you,” that is putting it lightly. Because all other 7th graders are either at St. Adelbert’s (for Catechism) or at Temple (for Hebrew studies), Holling gets stuck spending Wednesday afternoons alone with Mrs. Baker. And he is convinced that she hates him with a passion that has never existed before.
The Wednesday afternoons start out with Holling doing busy work for Mrs. Baker while they basically ignore each other’s existence. Then one day, Mrs. Baker asks Holling to clean the class pets’ cage. The class pets are two large, scabby rats. Inevitably the rats get loose. (The rats-on-the-loose plays a humorous role throughout the story!) After the escape, Mrs. Baker realizes that she may need to find other ways to keep Holling productive during their Wednesday afternoons, so she hands him his first Shakespeare title: The Merchant of Venice.
They spend the rest of that afternoon reading the play together. Holling decides he’s going to like The Merchant DESPITE Mrs. Bakers intentions to bore him to death. Then…a crazy thing happens. Holling finds himself actually enjoying The Merchant. In fact, he likes it a lot! They end up having a decent discussion about the play, and thus, a unique relationship between the two begins to blossom.
Holling gets a little obsessed with Shakespeare, in fact. He starts memorizing lines/insults and then begins USING them in his daily life. His friends obviously find this weird…at first. But then, somehow, he manages over time to (comically) get his classmates on board. (Who wouldn’t be excited to get away with calling your gym teacher a pied ninny!)
In the “background” of all this Shakespearean learning and humor, a few major events are going on in the world. This is 1967 and the Vietnam War is in full swing. Walter Cronkite’s daily evening news broadcasts, the assassination of Martin Luther King & Bobby Kennedy, The Beatles, hippies, people who oppose standing up for change, racial discrimination – All of these things are going on in Holling’s world. And the reader views these issues through his 12-year old eyes.
Schmidt offers a perfect balance of these historical scary times with hilarious, awkward 7th grade issues. And he does it AWESOMELY. Holling’s character building experiences (tolerance for opposing view points, acceptance of others’ religious/political beliefs, empathy, sibling love, being your own hero…just to name a few!) are seamlessly woven with defining an appropriate loving relationship between student and teacher.
Overall, Holling realizes it is his responsibility to contribute to what will someday be his own history. And how Shakespeare and Mrs. Baker help him get to that epiphany…makes for some FANTASTIC quality reading!
Overall Literary Merit: VERY HIGH
Classroom Possible Uses: At the very minimum, this would make a great read aloud. This title would be an enjoyable AND useful all class text. (So many great teaching opportunities are offered by this title: Shakespeare (obviously), 20th century history (Vietnam War/assignations of MLK and Bobby Kennedy), racial/religious tolerance, narrative story writing, the Beatles (poetry), …just to name a few.)
As mentioned above, this was a Newbery Winner, so MANY helpful tools can be found online to use with this FUN and USEFUL title. Here are just a few:
Great discussion questions: http://wildgeeseguides.blogspot.com/2010/01/wednesday-wars.html