The Wednesday Wars

by Gary Schmidt

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Holling Hoodhood has to spend his Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker, because he is not allowed to go to where the other students in his school have to go.  Holling attends a school that is a mixture of Catholic and Jewish students. Holling is neither.   On Wednesdays, the Jewish students go to Hebrew school and the Catholic students go to catechism.  

"So being a Presbyterian was now a disaster.  Especially on Wednesday afternoons when, at 1:45 sharp, half of my class went to Hebrew School at Temple Beth-El, and, at 1:55, the other half went to Catechism at Saint Adelbert's.  This left behind just the Presbyterians. Of which there had been three, and now there was one. 

Me." 

Because Holling can't go with the Catholic students or the Jewish students, he has to spend the rest of the afternoon with Mrs. Baker.  Holling and Mrs. Baker are not happy with the arrangement.  For the first month or so Mrs. Baker makes Holling do menial tasks such as cleaning chalk erasers.  Eventually she decides to teach Holling Shakespeare, and that begins a strong and long lasting bond between the two of them.  

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Why does Holling have to spend Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker in The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt?

Basically, Holling has to spend Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker because he is the only Presbyterian boy in class. Presumably, the Presbyterian classes were canceled after Holling's two Presbyterian classmates moved away.

Holling's dreaded Wednesday afternoons begin innocently enough. On the first Wednesday afternoon, he washes the chalkboards multiple times and straightens the dictionaries. He also beats the chalkboard erasers against the brick wall in order to remove the chalk residue from them. The next Wednesday afternoons are spent cleaning different areas of the classroom and the coat room.

On a particular Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Baker instructs Holling to clean about thirty chalkboard erasers, all from junior high classrooms in the school. Holling's reward is a cream puff from a tray Mrs. Baker is bringing to a Wives of Vietnam Soldiers meeting. Unfortunately, in bringing in the cleaned erasers, Holling unwittingly lets a cloud of chalk dust settle over the cream puffs, which happen to be sitting by the windows.

Later, rumors circulate around town that the ladies of the Wives of Vietnam Soldiers Association nearly choked to death on their cream puffs. Of course, no one is the wiser as to the cause of the strange-tasting cream puffs.

Eventually, Mrs. Baker announces that she and Holling will begin reading and discussing Shakespearean plays. They read everything from The Merchant of Venice to The Tempest. The reading of the plays greatly influences Holling, changing his perceptions about life, relationships, and love.

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Why does Holling have to spend Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker in The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt?

In The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt, Holling is the only Presbyterian in his class. He used to be one of three, but the other two moved away; now Holling is the lone Protestant in class.

Half the class lives on the north side of town and are Jewish. Every Wednesday afternoon, the Jewish students in Holling's seventh-grade class leave school at exactly one forty-five to attend Hebrew School at their temple, Temple Beth-El.  

The other half of the class lives on the south side of town and they are Catholics. Every Wednesday afternoon precisely at one fifty-five, the Catholic students in Holling's class leave to attend Catechism at Saint Adelbert's Church.

Holling lives

"right smack in the middle of town. Not on the north side. Not on the south side, Just somewhere in between. "It's the Perfect House," [his father] said.

When everyone else leaves for their religious studies, Holling is left alone for the afternoon with Mrs. Baker, his seventh-grade teacher. The title of the novel suggests this will be an important aspect of the novel, but of course these times alone with his teacher begin inauspiciously for Holling. Soon, however, these Wednesday afternoons with Mrs. Baker will change Holling's life. 

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