Quick Summary: Set in 1967, Holling Hoodhood lives "in between" in suburban Long Island; not on the north side with the Jewish families or the South end with the Catholics. He is Presbyterian, therefore he does not attend Hebrew School or Catechism on Wednesday afternoons. So instead, he is stuck with Mrs. Baker, his English teacher, who "hates him with heat whiter than the sun" (1). Everything seems to get him in trouble, even when he is not trying: incidents with cream puffs, rats falling from the ceiling, and yellow tights on stage. Even though it seems like he is being tortured, Holling begins to embrace the assignments Mrs.Baker gives him. He learns Shakespeare and runs around hurling Shakespearean insults at people. The book displays a growing relationship between a teacher and student - one where they eventually come to understand each other's perspectives.
Pros: The writing! Holling's first person narration is funny, sarcastic, and witty! His voice is vivid and engaging and the jokes are funny enough to make you laugh out loud. Schmidt is a master at crafting subtle figurative language that creates hilarious images in the reader's mind. Also, there are Shakespeare references galore to slowly introduce a student to titles and lines from Shakespeare. Plus, Holling thinks Shakespeare is cool, so your students will, too!
Cons: The only con that possibly comes to mind is that it may be more of a boys book. The main character and narrator and his friend are big baseball fans. There are only a few female characters for a girl to latch onto, but personally it didn't bother me, and it may only bother your more girly-girls.
Classroom Uses: I used this book as a mentor text to introduce figurative language to my students last year. I also used it as a personal mentor text while I was writing an essay where I wanted to create humor. This year I will be using it as a read aloud. It will be my first attempt at a whole book read aloud, but I know this book can keep students' attention!
Should I read it? You will love it. From a teacher's perspective, I valued the way this book allowed the student's view of the teacher and her life outside of school to change. Both Mrs. Baker and Holling understand each other by the end of the book. Also, the Shakespeare references may go over a 7th grader's head, but you will get them - and it will make you laugh all that much harder.
Can I share this tomorrow with my students?
Middle School Students: Yes! Any grade 6-8, especially boys!
High School Students: I would try it on a reluctant reader if you really need one that will get them going since the protagonist is only in 7th grade.