A Week in the Woods by Andrew Clements involves two protagonists: a child and his teacher. At the beginning of the story, both assume they will dislike each other. The events of the story challenge their assumptions and give them both a chance to grow.
Early on a Friday morning, Mr. Maxwell sits at his desk planning for Hardy Elementary School’s yearly big event, A Week in the Woods. The week of outdoor school is a great learning opportunity for Mr. Maxwell’s fifth-grade science students, and it is also the highlight of their school year. It takes a great deal of work to run the program, but Mr. Maxwell is glad to do it because it gives him the chance to combine his two great passions: education and the environment.
At the same moment, Mark Robert Chelmsley is moving out of his home in Scarsdale, New York. Mark has lived in Scarsdale for the three years he regards as the best of his life, but now his parents are forcing him to move to New Hampshire. Mark’s parents, who are extremely wealthy, are too busy with their work to bother coming home for the move. Leon and Anya, a Russian couple who look over the Chelmsley’s property and babysit Mark, are driving him to New Hampshire.
After a long drive, Mark arrives at his new home, an old farmhouse his parents have converted into a mansion. While Anya makes dinner, Mark explores the house. Overall, he is unimpressed. It was easy for his parents to pay for all the bedrooms and bathrooms and brand-new furniture, so why should he think it is anything special? The only part that really amazes him is the beauty of the snowy landscape he can see through the windows. His interest is also peaked by a hidden room that concealed escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad.
When Mark first arrives at Hardy Elementary, Mr. Maxwell tries to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, he has a bad feeling that Mark is a slacker. When he learns from another teacher that Mark’s family is very wealthy, Mr. Maxwell’s bad impression grows because
the only people Mr. Maxwell disliked more than slackers were environmentally insensitive, buy-the-world rich folks...[and] their lazy, spoiled kids.
Mark sees no point in making friends or working hard at his new school. There are only four months left in the year, and nobody seems interested in him. Besides, he will not be around long. Next year Mark’s parents are sending him to boarding school at Runyon Academy, one of the most prestigious schools in the country. As for the public school class work, it is laughably easy, made up of material he learned years ago at the top-notch private schools he has attended.
Mr. Maxwell does his best to excite Mark with a demonstration about exploding hydrogen gas, but Mark has already studied the subject. When Mr. Maxwell pushes Mark to participate, Mark ruins the surprise by telling the whole class what is going to happen. Mr. Maxwell tries to remain positive. After class, he makes another attempt to reach out to Mark by telling him all about A Week in the Woods. Mark just says, “Does everyone have to go?”
Although he is not yet showing it at school, Mark’s attitude about New Hampshire is beginning to change. For the first time in his life he is not burdened with lots of homework or scheduled activities. He has a great deal of free time to explore and enjoy himself. If Anya were not around, he would hardly stop exploring his parents’ new property to eat.
After his second Friday at Hardy Elementary, Mark spends a night alone in an old barn. During the night, Mark challenges himself to be tough and face his fear of the dark. He blows out his lamp and lies alone in the dark, thinking about his behavior in his first two weeks in New Hampshire. He realizes that he has acted “like a stuck-up jerk” and resolves to be nicer.
On Monday, Mark finds out that kids at his school are pretty nice. He makes friends with a boy named Jason. However, he has a harder time with the teachers, who do not warm up when he tries to be more active in class. Mr. Maxwell is especially fixed in his negative impressions. He responds with coldness to all of Mark’s attempts at friendliness.
(The entire section is 1743 words.)
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