The Wednesday Wars
Clarion Books, 2007
Newbery Honor Book
Holling Hoodhood is a normal 7th grader, just trying to get by and emerge from middle school as unscathed as possible. However, his new teacher Mrs. Baker has made this a bit difficult for him. The only student who stays behind on Wednesday afternoons, Mrs. Baker soon decides that his time would be best spent reading Shakespeare. Now his whole world is changing, often mirroring the things he is learning from the great plays, and, amidst the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s, he realizes that growing up and becoming a man takes courage, wisdom, and love.
At first, it’s almost difficult to get past Holling’s immature attitude regarding his teacher and his life. However, it’s exactly that initial character flaw that makes the process of the book so endearing. Divided by month rather than chapter, the story simply seems to move along from small adventure to small adventure in a way that represents real life accurately.
The other subplots—the Vietnam War and their school taking in a Vietnam refugee, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the anti-war and Civil Rights movements and sentiments represented by Holling’s older sister, the traditional views of life represented through his father, Shakespeare’s themes emerging throughout the story, Mrs. Baker’s relation to the war and Holling’s heroes, the New York Yankees, and Holling’s own process of courage and sacrifice—are what make this book more than simply a novel about a kid who reads some Shakespeare.
Much like Sophie’s World in which the world around her changes as she learns of the various philosophies, The Wednesday Wars contextualizes the messages of Shakespeare in a modern context, and shows that sometimes miracles do happen and sometimes they don’t, but more than anything, if the world were filled with the courageous and the loving, it would change drastically.
For the Classroom
This is a good book for younger readers to be introduced to Shakespeare, but it’s a great companion for studies during the time period of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.
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