Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Wednesday Wars (Gary B. Schmidt)

Target Ages: 10 and up

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Setting: 1967–68 school year in Long Island, New York

Awards: Newbery Honor Award

Historical References: Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Vietnam War, Mickey Mantle, John Wayne, Joe Pepitone, Horace Clarke, Cold War

Literary Reference:  Several of the plays of William Shakespheare are discussed.  Parallels are often derived between the plays and the protagonist’s life. 

First 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. 
And let me tell you, it wasn’t for anything I’d done.
If it had been Doug Swietech that Mrs. Baker hated, it would have made sense.
Doug Sweiteck once made up a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you.

Amazon Summary:
“Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with? A bully demanding cream puffs; angry rats; and a baseball hero signing autographs the very same night Holling has to appear in a play in yellow tights! As fate sneaks up on him again and again, Holling finds Motivation—the Big M—in the most unexpected places and musters up the courage to embrace his destiny, in spite of himself.”

I just finished reading The Wednesday Wars to my son. Originally, I read it about 5 years ago after a children’s librarian recommended it to me. (She always has excellent recommendations.) 

Even though the setting takes place in the 1960’s, the focus is on a timeless coming-of-age narrative that could take place in any era. As a result, I categorized the book as realistic fiction. Educators could use the novel as a starting point for discussion of some of the historical events and people.  

Several key motifs are ideal for thought-provoking discussions.
  • Humor: My son and I laughed out loud many times.  The humor balances the tense moments of war, family, and peers as well as keeps young (and mature) readers entertained.
  • War:  The Vietnam War is part of the backdrop with people in the community impacted by loved ones who are in the military there.  There is a “war” going on between Holling and Mrs. Baker (at least in his mind). A real battle is on-going between Holling’s sister (Heather) and their father. 
  • Family: Holling’s parents is the most frustrating aspect of the novel. Holling’s father is arrogant and selfish. He only cares about appearances and his success. His mother is disengaged and passive. Holling and Heather have typical sibling banter. Their relationship matures during the course of the novel. 
  • Friendship: There are several touching moments of friendship, like when Doug stands up to his hero because of how Holling is treated and when several of the classmates worked together to help Danny prepare for his big day.
  • Self-Identity: Holling’s life is planned out for him by his father.  Holling begins to embrace his destiny on his own terms and see life his own way. 
  • Bullying: Holling has to deal with bullies, especially Doug Sweiteck’s brother and, even, his own father.
  • Racism/Prejudice: Mai Thi has been brought to American from Vietnam by a Catholic charity.  She deals with some racism due to the tension felt by those with loved ones fighting overseas.  Holling also experiences unfair prejudice by a close-minded “hero.”  
  • Forgiveness/Redemption: Several characters have opportunities for forgiveness and redemption. 

Author Gary D. Schmidt has written a warm, coming-of-age story full of humor, tension, and hope.  I loved sharing this timeless story with my son.  You should add The Wednesday Wars to your summer reading list.

Visit Ramblings of a Wanna Be Scribe for more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday novels. 


  1. One of my favorites and your review makes me want to read it again. I also love his companion novel, OKAY FOR NOW.

    1. I am thinking of starting that one next. I have it in my pile. :)

  2. I love this book! Thanks for the review.
    - Violet

  3. This is a really wonderful book, although I like Okay of Now, the follow up, just a little bit more. I think Gary D. Schmidt might just be my favorite MG author. Thanks for the reminder.


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