Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Historical Fiction Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

10263191The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Format:  Ebook

Number of Pages: 272
First Published:  June 1st, 2007
Source: Library
Why I wanted to read this:   I've always been intrigued by the cover and I was looking for a historical fiction book to read.  

Opening Lines: 
 "Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.   Me.         And let me tell you, it wasn't for anything that I'd done."

The Wednesday Wars takes place during 1967 across nine months of Holling Hoodhood's school year at Camillo Junior High in Long Island.   Each Wednesday half of Hollings class goes to Hebrew School and the other half got to Catechism leaving Holling alone with his teacher, Mrs. Baker.  Mrs. Baker keeps him busy clapping erasers and cleaning up around the classroom, until the day she decides they should read William Shakespeare's plays together,  further confirming to Holling that Mrs. Baker hates his guts.   While at school, Holling also experiences teasing from his classmates, but nothing compares to the pressure he receives from his father to stay on Mrs. Baker's good side.  Otherwise, his father's business risks losing an architectural contract with Mrs. Baker's family.  Holling just wants to make it through the year in Mrs. Baker's class.

Holling's impression of Mrs. Baker is that she is an "evil genius,"  someone who hates his guts, but over the course of the story, his opinion of her begins to shift through their shared reading and discussions of Shakespeare.   Holling is a pretty bright kid and receptive to the idea of reading Shakespeare because he already loves to read books like Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Call of the Wild.  Although, he can't fathom how Shakespeare could ever compare to those books.  But both Holling and Schmidt do demonstrate that Shakespeare's plays aren't boring, they actually have a lot more going on then even Holling first thought.   I must confess I've only read a few of Shakespeare's plays, so some of the characters names and quotes were new to me, but what I enjoyed most was Holling and Mrs. Baker's discussions about the play's.  How The Merchant of Venice was about becoming who you're supposed to be, how The Tempest is about how defeat helps us to grow.  Each play Mrs. Baker selected corresponded to something happening in Holling's life,  and through their discussions, Holling's character began to change and grow in some wonderful ways.  Holling's also learns that he made a lot of assumptions about Mrs. Baker and that he needs to be the person he wants to be, not who his father thinks he should be.  

The Wednesday Wars also incorporates historical events like the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy into the storyline through Mai Thi, a character who is a Vietnamese refugee, and Holling's interactions with Mrs. Baker, whose husband later in the story goes missing during the war.  Hollings sister also illustrates the protests that were going on during the war.   Just the kind of historical fiction that I like to read, it doesn't feel like I'm being told everything, rather seeing them through Holling's storytelling.  One not so surprising thing was how much things don't seem to have changed since the time being reflected.  How standardized tests and bomb drills were things Holling experienced growing up, and how even today's children have similar issues as those presented in the book with kids practicing active shooter drills, racism and bullying still occurring.   

Ahh, but Mrs. Baker, what a lovely teacher, she made me tear up in the same ways that reading Ms. Bixby's Last Day did.  One of my favorite parts of the book was when she and Holling went on a tour of sites around town like the Quaker Meeting House, a station on the underground railroad, and the Saint Paul's Episcopal School, where British Soldiers were housed during the American Revolution.  With the important point that " you see houses and buildings every day, and you walk by them on your way to something else, and you hardly see."    With Holling observing that he "saw his town as if I just arrived."  

This was truly a wonderful read, filled with laugh out loud moments, excellent character development, and so many memorable quotes I'd love to share, okay maybe just one more, but then go read it for yourself please.  :)

"But her nefarious plot to bore me to death failed again, because The Tempest was even better than the Merchant of Venice."

Did I pique your interest or have you read The Wednesday Wars before?  Feel free to leave a comment.  


  1. I have actually had this book for ages- but have never read it. I really didn't know anything about it- so I was glad to read this review. It sounds like a great book and one that I should get to soon. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I used to see this on the Must Read tables at Barnes and Noble and I've always liked the cover, so I finally decided to read it. Hope you get a chance, it's a really good book. Plus I learned quite a bit about Shakespeare.

  2. Oh wow! This sounds really intriguing! I have to add this to my list!

  3. I read and loved this book, but you noticed things in it that I missed. It's interesting how the same book can speak to different people in different ways.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I'd love to know what I missed that you recalled :)