Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.  Scholastic Audio Books, 2007
As an author, it must be a tricky thing to listen to the audiobook of your work.  You've labored over the voice, the tone, the dialogue, the...the...ellipses.  To hear another voice reading the story could be so odd. 

Then, what if it all goes horribly off track? What if the bright folks at Corporate Audiobook Inc. get it completely wrong?  What if the narrator doesn't work or is a complete mismatch and they bungle the rhythm and dialogue the author so carefully crafted?

Wednesday Wars
Well, I hope Gary D. Schmidt was happy with Joel Johnstone because, it seems to me that Johnstone understood every word, every syllable and even the spaces BETWEEN the words of this Newbery honor book.  

I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  Some are enjoyable, some are bearable and some are un-listenable.    Scholastic Audio has produced a performance here that seems as close to a perfect melding of story and narrator as I have ever heard.

Oh, to hear Johnstone voice the teacher, Mrs. Baker  as she addresses Holling Hoodhood, with her crystalline:  "Mr. Hoodhood" or to experience Holling's lament of  the placement of the feathers on his costume for The Tempest -- these are moments I will long remember. 
I was  a seventh grader during the school year of 1967-68 and could,  totally identify with Holling's "still-too-young-to-fully-appreciate the-times-that-were-a-changing-but-old-enough-to-understand-that-something-was-happening-here"  state of mind.  Author, Gary Schmidt got that part exactly right.

I remember when classrooms had windows that opened, a concept that seem long ago and far away now.  I DO remember when a teacher, like Mrs. Baker,  could cross her arms in such a way that the class WOULD fall silent immediately

The Wednesday Wars
  is a novel with characters so real  and authentic that I found myself missing them between listens.  This book is a celebration of teaching and learning and what students learn from dedicated teachers and what teachers learn from dedicated students.

While all the Jewish and Roman Catholic kids in his class are at religious instruction on Wednesday afternoon, Holling Hoodhood, a Presbyterian, is the only student left at school.  His teacher, Mrs. Baker must also stay, as a result.  Holling is sure she hates him for it.   As Mrs. Baker and Holling embark on a study of Shakespeare on these Wednesdays,  he finds more connections than he could have ever guessed, between his life and the words of the Bard.   He also gains insight into the life of his teacher whose husband is fighting in Vietnam.  

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. 

Glorious story, brilliant audiobook.

I am not sure how many kids have discovered this book. Classroom windows do not open anymore in my corner of the world, but the humor, the quandaries and vagueries of junior high school life are still spot on.  

Memo to self:  Must booktalk this title. 


Charlotte said...

I love this book-- I'm glad the audio version doesn't disappoint!

Ms. Yingling said...

This one is a hard sell for current middle schoolers. It's rather philosophical, and seems like the best audience is readers for whom this is a trot down memory lane. I don't even HAVE any windows in my library because it was built in 1969. I wish I could open some!

Camille said...

I was pondering how to describe the book. The humor was so spot on for me but I have wondered if it would catch kids. If they would just give it a chance ...

joanna said...

I very much enjoy Joel Johnston's audiobooks. I heard him first with Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and then immediately checked Wednesday Wars out on audio as well. The scene where he picks up his sister at the bus station and says her name.. making me sniffle just thinking about it!

Camille said...

joanna-- I could not agree more about the bus station scene. I will look for Lizzie Bright. I am a fan of his reading now.

Jess said...

Toads, beetles, bats! Now I want to re-listen to this one. I agree that it's a pretty perfect audiobook.