The Wednesday Wars


Gary Schmidt

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The Wednesday Wars Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Gary Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Gary Schmidt

Gary Schmidt was born in a small town on Long Island called Hicksville. Various parts of The Wednesday Wars are autobiographical and based on his experience growing up in Hicksville, New York: his seventh grade teacher had pet rats, his teacher stressed the importance of diagramming sentences, and Gary wasn't considered particularly smart. He only began to thrive in school when a concerned teacher stepped in and fostered a love of reading. Schmidt attended Gordon College, where he earned an English degree in 1979. He then earned a master's degree and a PhD in medieval literature in 1985. After this, he began working as a professor of English at Calvin College, where he teaches creative writing and children's literature classes. He married his wife, fellow author Anne Stickney Schmidt, in 1979, and the two had six children. They also co-wrote a book about prayer, religion, and writing. Anne died in 2013. Two of Schmidt's novels, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and The Wednesday Wars, won the Newbery Honor, which recognizes exceptional children's literature. In addition to teaching at Calvin College, Schmidt also teaches writing courses in prisons and detention centers. His experiences doing so inspired his 2015 novel, Orbiting Jupiter.
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Historical Context of The Wednesday Wars

The Vietnam War took place from 1955 to April 1975. The United States invaded Vietnam in order to prevent the spread of Communism, as espoused by the northern Communist regime known as the Viet Cong. By 1967, when Holling's story starts, a third of the US population, most of them young people, believed that the US was misguided in its involvement in the war. It's believed that this segment skewed so young because the youth were the ones who were affected by the draft. Around this time, in the spring of 1968, the CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite actually traveled to Vietnam to report from location. Upon his return, he echoed other officials who no longer supported the war, causing President Johnson to remark that he effectively lost the middle class when he lost Walter Cronkite’s support. Alongside the Vietnam War, the US was engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which was also rooted in a fear of Communism. The Cold War saw both countries build up their nuclear arsenals, which is why Holling and his classmates practice bomb drills in The Wednesday Wars. Also during this time, American youth and minorities were involved in protesting for civil rights, and many of those conflicts came to head in 1968. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, sparking violent protests in a number of American cities.

Other Books Related to The Wednesday Wars

Gary Schmidt has written several historical fiction novels for young adults, including a sequel to The Wednesday Wars, titled Okay for Now, and his most famous novel, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Other notable young adult historical fiction novels include Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts, which takes place on Alcatraz Island in 1935, and Pam Muñoz Ryan's Esperanza Rising, which deals with Mexican immigrants to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Like The Wednesday Wars, both of these works are coming of age novels. Although it is funny and has a happy ending, The Wednesday Wars largely centers on the Vietnam War and its emotional impact on people in Holling’s community. Notable literary works about the Vietnam War include Tim O'Brien's anti-war novel, Going after Cacciato, and his collection of short stories titled The Things They Carried. Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War offers a Vietnamese perspective of the war. In The Wednesday Wars, Holling reads a number of Shakespeare plays including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
Key Facts about The Wednesday Wars
  • Full Title: The Wednesday Wars
  • When Written: 2005-2007
  • Where Written: Michigan
  • When Published: 2007
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Bildungsroman; young adult fiction; historical fiction
  • Setting: A small town on Long Island, 1967-68
  • Climax: Though there's no clear climax, Holling's request that Mrs. Baker refer to him by his first name instead of as Mr. Hoodhood is a major turning point in Holling's coming of age and quest for independence.
  • Antagonist: Doug Swieteck's brother and the penitentiary crowd; Holling's dad; the Vietnam War
  • Point of View: First person narrated by Holling

Extra Credit for The Wednesday Wars

Nobody Has Names Like That. Initially, Gary Schmidt's editor tried to reject Holling Hoodhood's name on the grounds that it was too weird, despite the fact that "Holling" is a nod to the mid-20th century children's author Holling C. Holling, and "Hoodhood" is the last name of one of Schmidt's son's friends. Schmidt convinced the editor to keep the name by showing her strange names of real students from his class rosters.

Autobiographical, With a Twist. The premise of The Wednesday Wars is mostly autobiographical: Like Holling, author Gary Schmidt spent afternoons alone with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while his classmates were at Hebrew school or catechism. Unlike the novel, the real-life Mrs. Baker unfortunately never came to like him, and he spent the entire year doing janitorial work on those afternoons.