Thursday, February 19, 2015
Wayside School Series
Titles: Sideways Stories from Wayside School; Wayside School is Falling Down; Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger
Author: Louis Sachar
Rating: 0 stars out of 3 possible, "D/F"
Audience: Second grade and up
I was really hoping to find another fun and funny childhood series along the lines of Frindle (Andrew Clements), Soup (Robert Newton Peck), Henry Huggins (Beverly Cleary), or at least Junie B. Jones (Barbara Parker) or George Brown, Class Clown (Nancy Krulik). Unfortunately, the two titles I read in this series were more ridiculous than funny, and not very clever. I can handle silly and ridiculous, if there is a measure of clever thrown in. But without the cleverness, you just have post-modern random-ness.
Of course, this can appeal to a lot of second graders, but parents who are trying to engage their families with more compelling, thoughtful materials might be disappointed. This is especially true because we know the Louis Sachar who wrote Holes, which was both hilarious and clever/thought-provoking. So, for your information, Wayside School is not Holes.
Wayside School is 30 stories tall, instead of being 30 classrooms long. This creates a lot of logistical problems, as you can imagine. For instance, there are children who never experience lunch or recess because it takes too long to get to the first floor and back to the 30th classroom. Furthermore, there is no 19th story. (This is clarified in Chapter 19. Miss Zarves: "There is no Miss Zarves. There is no 19th story. Sorry." That is the most satisfying joke in the book!)
The Yard Teacher (recess monitor/janitor-type) is Louis himself. In the first story, Louis climbs all the way to the top floor classroom to deliver a computer no one wants. The teacher, Mrs. Jewls, throws it out the window to teach the class about gravity.
Other characters and non sequiturs include:
There's Calvin who wants a tattoo, but can't decide what type. So he gets a tattoo of a potato and the kids tease him.
Dana, who giggles all the time: "There goes the giggle box," said John. She hated John. (There are a number of chapters about kids who can't stand each other.)
Kathy is a difficult child who likes no one and has a cat named Skunks. She kept her cat locked up and then blamed Mrs. Jewls that it ran away. "The next time I get a cat, I'll kill him. Then he'll never run away."
Terrence, a good athlete but bad sport who kicks balls over the fence: "You have to go get it." "Shut up, Dixie cup." "You idiot." "Take a train, peanut brain." Finally Louis picks Terrence up and kicks him over the fence.
Myron, a rebellious student who has some choices to make:
'"Do you want to be safe or free? You can't have it both ways. Do you want to be safe? Do you
want to sit in the same chair every day and go up and down the stairs every time the bell rings
You'll have to go to school 5 days a week. And you'll have to go to bed at the same time every
day. But first you'll have to brush your teeth. And you won't be allowed to watch TV until you
finish your homework. You'll have to go inside when it rains. But first you'll have to wipe your
feet. Or--you can be free."
"I want to be free," Myron said bravely.
So he sat on the floor and there was nothing Mrs. Jewls could do about it. He was free."'
Then, for no apparent reason: "After school Mrs. Jewls found Myron's other sneaker in the teachers' lounge, in the refrigerator."
Perhaps I'm oversensitive, since this is the first year I've had a daughter in a public school classroom with a lot of these types of kids, particularly children who have figured out no one can make them do anything they don't want to do. This is not the type of successful "tough love" "boot camp" examples our kids need in the classroom.
I guess it could be funny...if it wasn't so true.
I recommend more clever series that help adults and school kids navigate difficulties together:
Frindle; Soup; Henry Huggins; Junie B. Jones; George Brown, Class Clown; Holes.
Humor maintains a very important place in children's literature: a place to reinforce values and consequences. Oh yes, and to make us laugh out loud--without cringing.