For January’s entry into Emlyn Chand’s “Books that made me Love Reading” Challenge, I read a couple of Louis Sachar’s Wayside books: Sideways Stories From Wayside School and Wayside School Is Falling Down.
I started the challenge pretty late into January, and I wasn’t sure what I’d have time to read before the end of the month. I was browsing at the library yesterday, looking for books for my kid, and I saw these two. I had copies of them growing up, and I read them each at least a dozen times.
I remembered that they were funny, and that there were quirky oddball characters: the almost-passably normal teacher; the lovable recess guy; the 19th floor that doesn’t exist; the girl who loved dead rats more than people because at least dead rats wouldn’t hurt her emotionally. Most of all, I remembered that I liked them.
And in rereading them, I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, they’re funnier this time around because they’re just so off-the-wall absurd! Many of the chapters left me giggling at the characters’ antics and dialogue. Summaries of the book say there are supernatural aspects, but I’d go so far as to say it’s magical realism for kids. Start your third graders on this, and they’ll be loving Gabriel García Márquez when they encounter him in high school.
The best thing about these books, however, was the reaction I received when sharing them with my students. I held up the book and one of my students immediately recognized it. “I read those all the time when I was a kid. I loved them!” said a boy who professes to now hate reading (interestingly enough, this is the second time I’ve gotten him talking about the joys of reading and books in my class; I loaned him Brent Runyon’s The Burn Journals and he devoured it). A girl in another class was equally glad to see Louis Sachar’s stories surfacing in the classroom.
I read them “Chapter 4: Homework” from Wayside School Is Falling Down, a short story about distractions in the classroom. The teacher, Mrs. Jewls, is trying to teach a lesson on fractions when Mac has a comment.
“I couldn’t find one of my socks this morning,” said Mac. “Man, I looked everywhere! In my closet, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, but I just couldn’t find it! I asked my mother, but she hadn’t seen it either.”
“That’s very interesting, Mac,” Mrs. Jewls said patiently, “but what does that have to do with decimals?”
“Because,” said Mac, “I could only find half of my socks!”
“Oh. Right,” said Mrs. Jewls. “Does anybody else have any questions about decimals? Yes, John?”
“Did you look under the bed?” asked John.
And so it goes; the entire class is more interested in socks than the lesson. I think any teacher, and any student, can relate to this. My students certainly could. Many chuckled while I read the story – not an accomplishment to take lightly when it comes to story time for unmotivated high schoolers. And then while we were discussing the story and its similarity to our class, they managed to turn the class discussion to fried chicken and football.
I think we might need to have storytime more often.
I’ve never read these two books but after reading your review I’m putting them on my reading list. Wonderful January Post. :)
Great review, ED. I never read these books growing up, but you sold me by calling it magical realism for kids. I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jonathan Safran Foer. If this is the kids’ version, sign me up! And kudos on fostering a love of reading in your classroom kids. We need more teachers like you in the world. :-D
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