What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there is little of concern here: some products mentioned, two references to students smoking, and a scene of two rats run over by a bus.
What's the story?
On Wednesdays afternoons half of Holling's class leaves school early for Catechism class. The other half leaves early for Hebrew School. That leaves Presbyterian Holling alone every Wednesday afternoon with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Neither of them is happy at the prospect, and Holling is sure Mrs. Baker hates him as a result.
At first Mrs. Baker just has Holling clean erasers, but then decides to make better use of the time by introducing him to Shakespeare. And as events in the larger world during the 1967-'68 school year unfold in the background, Holling begins to learn about himself, his family, friends, and the mysterious adult world.
Is it any good?
It's a wonderful thing when an author can bring the reader to tears without anything sad happening, even better when it's done in the course of what would normally be described as "hilarious misadventures." Gary Schmidt accomplishes it by getting inside the head of a bright but fairly typical goofball seventh-grader who is doing the opposite of what so many kids at that age do -- opening his heart to the world.
With the prim prodding of his dry, no-nonsense teacher, and a big dollop of help from the Bard, Holling learns to see into the hearts of others, which causes him to stand up to his overbearing father, to care for his floundering older sister when she needs him, to recognize the depth of his friendships, to see the humanity in his teachers, and ... to begin to really understand Shakespeare. This is a funny and breathtakingly moving book, because in the end there's little that's as funny and moving as growing up -- except perhaps growing into a wise and loving person.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the ways in which Shakespeare helps Holling understand his life, and the ways in which his life helps him understand Shakespeare. Why does he like using Shakespeare's phrases so much? How does reading Shakespeare relate to the rest of his life?