The Wednesday Wars is a coming of age story that will provoke equal parts laughter and reflection. A comic account of the fictional Holling Hoodhood’s seventh grade year, the book also plumbs unexpected emotional depths as Holling navigates bullies, friendships, and familial stress, all to the grim backdrop of the Vietnam War. Throughout his adventures, Holling reads a number of Shakespearean plays at the direction of his teacher, making the book rife with literary allusions and explorations of Shakespeare’s most famous lines and themes. Holling’s first person narration also includes plenty of playful instances of figurative language. Teachers will find this book a perfect opportunity to explore literary concepts while keeping students engaged and entertained.
Most middle school readers will likely be unfamiliar with the Shakespeare Holling repeatedly alludes to. The book provides some context for Holling’s reflections on famous lines (such as “The quality of mercy is not strained”), but additional background may provide opportunities for reading support or enrichment activities. The list below contains the plays that Holling reads through the year.
In addition to the Shakespeare, young readers may need background on the history of the 1960s. The Vietnam War is in full swing when the novel begins, and issues like the draft, war protests, and political leaders come up repeatedly. The Battle of Kesanh is given particular prominence in the book, as Mrs. Baker’s husband goes missing in action during this five-month siege. Other cultural realities of the sixties make their way into the story as well, from the hippie movement to Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News. Consider previewing the topics below with your students before reading The Wednesday Wars.