Saturday, April 23, 2011

A kids' book read for a change, The Wednesday Wars

I was just reading a book review from The New York Times of The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt  that started by the author, Tanya Lee Stone, wondering if this is a kids book that is perhaps more for adults, particularly those who grew up during the 60's.  I wondered this myself as I began reading.

Sometimes when I have read Newbery Award Winners in particular I have wondered this.  Are these books more for adults than children?  Will kids really like them?  Some books I think take more discussion than others.  Good children's or young adults' book lend themselves to discussion well.  Those have often books that I have chosen for read alouds or class novels.  One of my favorite book, The View from Saturday by E.M. Konigsburg was one that I loved doing as a class novel as it was great for lots of projects, teaching calligraphy, discussion of protection of loggerhead turtles etc.  It's one I have just put out for literature circles and I will be curious how the kids enjoy it.

Back to The Wednesday Wars.  It was a bit of a slow start for me, the book not really grabbing me, although it had been highly recommended by the bookseller at Kidsbooks where I had bought it.  I was reminded of how I had felt this way, as had several of my students, about Maniac Magee initially.  But like Maniac Magee, before I knew it I was spellbound, not wanting to stop reading as the story engaged me.

The book takes place during the Vietnam War, and we also witness the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  For me I was taken back to watching Walter Cronkite and the CBS news.   I think I still have an aversion to TV news from those years of so much horror.

The book chronicles  the coming of age of one seventh grader through his relationship with the seventh grade teacher who he initially thinks is out to get him, and his own family who strive for perfection but it is as fragile as their living room ceiling that comes crashing down.  He also is helped in this quest of understanding by none other than William Shakespeare. 

Again, I loved the book.  It brought me back to another place and time, one that was quite familiar.  I loved the story telling ability of the author who was able to write the best kind of book, one that is able to turn from comedic to the serious and back again.  The discussion that his teacher has about what is comedy really pertains to the book the author has indeed written.  I thought it was all quite brilliant.

At the end of the New York Times review, in case you don't read it, the author's ten year old son is laughing out loud as he reads The Wednesday Wars and wants to read Shakespeare, proving to her the success of the book for younger readers.  I am curious how my seventh graders will like but I have a feeling they will.  Their lives are quite different from Holling's.  They don't live in New Jersey and in a town where most of the kids are Jewish or Catholic (Holling, being Presbyterian, he alone spends Wednesday afternoon's with his teacher) and they didn't live in the 60's and don't know much about that era, but Holling's struggles are struggles they can relate to as our his dreams, and they will be taken to a different time and place  that they now will understand a little bit more.

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