Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Wednesday Wars, by Gary Schmidt (ages 9 - 14)

Seventh grade: it’s smack in the middle of the tween years, and a time full of transition for so many kids. Seventh graders are standing with a foot in each side of growing up - one side leaning into their teenage years, yearning to grow up and become fully independent, the other side keeping a toe in their childhood. I just finished listening to The Wednesday Wars, and - oh, how this book spoke to me, made me laugh and cry and feel and connect. I absolutely loved it.
The Wednesday WarsThe Wednesday Wars
by Gary Schmidt
NY: Clarion Books, 2007
audiobook narrated by Joel Johnstone
NY: Scholastic Audiobooks, 2007
ages 9 - 14
available on Amazon (paperback and CDs) and your local public library
2008 Newbery Honor Award
Audie Award Finalist
It’s 1967, and Holling Hoodhood has just started seventh grade in Long Island, New York. He’s sure that his teacher Mrs. Baker hates him, absolutely hates him, and he’s dreading Wednesdays. Every Wednesday afternoon, he has to stay with his English teacher while all the other kids go to Hebrew school or catechism since he is the only Protestant in his class. At first, Holling and Mrs. Baker keep their distance. Holling spends his afternoons perfecting the art of cleaning blackboards and pounding erasers. But soon Mrs. Baker gives Holling a copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, and Holling finds that he actually likes these plays.
“Love and hate in seventh grade are not far apart, let me tell you.”
Holling’s voice really spoke to me. This was a perfect audiobook, one whose first person narration is brought to life by a versitile, nuanced narration by Joel Johnstone. Holling’s feelings, his uncertainties and frustrations, and his discoveries really come alive with this narration. But it wasn’t just that - Johnstone gave each character his or her own voice. I completely agree with Camille at The BookMoot:
"It seems to me that Johnstone understood every word, every syllable and even the spaces BETWEEN the words of this Newbery honor book. … Gary Schmidt is a very clever writer. I burst out loud laughing as Holling attempts to navigate seventh grade in spite of accidents, death threats, deadly rats, diagrammed sentences, a flower-child older sister and a distant and opportunistic father. “
Gary Schmidt has written a story that is both a funny school story and a poignant historical novel. I found myself laughing out loud, sighing, yearning for a teachers like Mrs. Baker, and cringing at the chasm between Mr. Hoodhood and his children. I loved the connections to Shakespeare, and I know others will love the baseball, track or camping scenes. This is a book I can see reading again and again.

Okay for NowI have just started the companion novel to The Wednesday Wars that Gary Schmidt has just published: Okay for Now. It is definitely a bit darker, but friends have raved about it as well. Again, he's created a remarkable voice and a story with real emotional resonance. Watch Gary Schmidt’s recent presentation at the New York Public Library where he talks about Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars - available here at YouTube. If you've started reading Okay for Now, you'll love the chance to see an original Audubon portfolio from the NYPL Rare Book collection. I also enjoyed this shorter interview with Gary Schmidt on the ReadKiddoRead blog, about The Wednesday Wars.

If you like The Wednesday Wars, you’ll definitely want to read Okay for Now. You may also like Greetings from Planet Earth, by Barbara Kerley. I loved the way Kerley combined a sense of the impact of the Vietnam war on a family, and a young boy's coming of age. This was a very popular book at Emerson when we read the California Young Reader Medal nominees this year.

The review copy came from my local library. I listened to it with my 12 year old and 9 year old daughters - they both adored The Wednesday Wars. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you). Thank you for your support.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. I just finished OKAY FOR NOW and it made me want to go back and read THE WEDNESDAY WARS again. Looks like I’ll need to add GREETINGS FROM PLANET EARTH to my list, too. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I’m curious to know if you tried the audio version of OKAY FOR NOW and, if so, how it was.

  2. I haven't tried the audio for Okay for Now. But I'm in the middle of reading it right now. I think it would work on audio. What do you think?

    I did enjoy Marcelo and the Real World, which is narrated by the same narrator, Lincoln Hoppe.

  3. Great book talk once again! You always make me move books to the top of my to be read pile. I have Okay for ow, but have never read Wednesday Wars- time to shop! Thanks for adding to Book Talk Tuesday!

  4. I think it would work as an audio fine, except that you wouldn't get to see the Audubon illustrations that he refers to throughout the book. They aren't necessary, but they do add to the reading experience.

  5. Yes, I do think you're absolutely right. The narrative voice would be great on audio, but I can't imagine reading the story without being able to see the Audubon paintings. They give the story so much more depth.