The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Copy picked up at Book Expo America.
The Plot: On Wednesday afternoons at 1:45, everyone in Holling Hoodhood's seventh-grade class at Camillo Junior High either goes to Hebrew school or Catechism. Everyone, that is, except Holling, who is Presbyterian. On Wednesday afternoons Holling receives Shakespeare lessons from the toughest teacher in school, Mrs. Baker, who is out to get Holling (or so he says). Despite his better efforts Holling finds himself falling in love with Shakespeare's language. As Holling's seventh-grade year progresses a series of events including yellow-toothed rats, yellow tights with feathers on the butt, running like Jesse Owens, and cream puffs combine with Shakespeare to change the way Holling views his family, his friends, and himself.
The Good: This is a highly literary work that's also a joy to read. And if you've ever participated in the endless debates about what the Newbery and Printz award mean in the grander scheme of children's literature, you'll know that's saying something. First, the historical setting also has meaning to Holling and his family; the book is set in 1967 because that zeitgeist is an integral part of Holling's thoughts and actions, not just because it can be set in 1967. Second, for all the seriousness that is the Vietnam war and Shakespeare there is quite a lot of humor, often slapstick, that will definitely appeal to the middle-school crowd. Holling is witty and intelligent but also your very typical seventh-grader. Girls confound him. School lunches are terrible. His older sister is moody. The first thing he learns from Shakespeare is not the beauty of love and freedom, but how to curse. As the work progresses, Holling sees that his teacher can be human (even realizing that teachers aren't born behind desks with red pens in their hand) and the Perfect House his father maintains is...slightly less than perfect.
Dare I say this is one of the greatest children's literary accomplishments of 2007? Even if it isn't, all's well that ends well.
crossposted at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy