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Book Review

This humorous coming-of-age novel by Gary D. Schmidt is published by Clarion Books, an imprint of the Houghton Mifflin Company and is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In 1967, seventh-grader Holling Hoodhood lives in the "perfect" house in New York. The carpet is immaculate. The seat cushions are covered in plastic. Holling's father is an architect, owner of Hoodhood and Associates, so everything and everyone must always look good.

The Jewish community lives on the north side of Holling's town. The Italian Catholics live on the south. Holling's Presbyterian family lives near his school, Camillo Junior High, right in the center of town. From day one at Camillo, Holling is sure his teacher, Mrs. Baker, hates him. It's probably because she's going to be stuck with him on Wednesday afternoons all year long. Every Wednesday, the Jewish kids leave at 1:45 for Hebrew school, and the Catholic kids leave at 1:55 for catechism classes. Mrs. Baker will have to find something for Holling, the lone Presbyterian, to do with the time. He tries to tell his father that Mrs. Baker hates him. Dad says Mrs. Baker's brother-in-law owns a sporting goods store that's going to need an architect for an upcoming building project. He wants the contract, so he demands Holling be especially nice to Mrs. Baker.

At first, Mrs. Baker has Holling cleaning erasers on Wednesdays. Another Wednesday, he cleans the classroom rat cage, accidentally allowing the two rats to escape into the ceiling for months. Mrs. Baker decides to start reading Shakespeare with Holling on Wednesdays. He initially thinks this is the worst punishment of all. But soon, he begins to enjoy The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice. He especially likes the way the character Caliban curses with phrases like "the red plague rid you!" or "toads, beetles, bats, light on you!" He practices the curses at home and uses them on his classmates.

Holling ends up playing a fairy in a Long Island Shakespeare production. He's humiliated that he has to wear yellow tights with feathers on the behind. Mrs. Baker finds out about the play and announces it to his class. She attends, along with some of his classmates. Despite Holling's embarrassment, classmates Danny, Mai Thi and Meryl Lee are impressed by his performance.

Mickey Mantle is signing autographs at Baker's Sporting Goods store the same night. Holling goes to great lengths to get to the store after his show, only to have the ballplayer laugh at his costume and refuse to sign his baseball. Danny, who just got his ball signed, gives it back to Mantle in a show of solidarity for Holling.

Mrs. Baker later hears about the ballplayer's rudeness. She uses her connections and surprises Holling by arranging for him, Danny and their friend Doug to play baseball in the gym one Wednesday afternoon with some other Yankee greats. The boys also receive tickets for opening day at Yankee stadium in April.

In a January storm, Holling saves his sister from being hit by a bus and gets his picture in the paper. Holling decides to ask out his classmate Meryl Lee for Valentine's Day. He has no money and is afraid he'll look like a cheapskate. Mrs. Baker helps him get free tickets to a performance of Romeo and Juliet.

The nightly news about Vietnam becomes increasingly grim, and Mrs. Baker's husband goes missing in action. Holling's dad and sister fight about politics, and Dad tells her she'll stay home and work for him rather than go to college and become a flower child. She eventually runs away to California to "find herself."

Holling accidentally discovers he has a talent for running, after the coach makes everyone try out for cross-country. Mrs. Baker coaches Holling on Wednesdays, and he learns she was a former Olympic medal winner in track. Holling even wins a $100 savings bond at a track meet.

The Yankees' opening day falls on a Wednesday. As usual, Mr. Hoodhood puts work above family and fails to pick up Holling for the game. Once all of the other kids are gone, Mrs. Baker takes Holling to the ballpark. They join Danny, Doug and their families and get a special tour at the end of the game. The players remember them and recognize Mrs. Baker from her Olympic days.

Holling's school holds mandatory bomb drills several days in a row. One Wednesday afternoon, Mrs. Baker decides to ditch the bomb drills and take him on a field trip to some of the city's famous architectural structures. He begins to see his city in a whole new way.

Holling's sister calls him from Minneapolis, crying. She wants to come home but doesn't have the money. He cashes in the savings bond he won and uses it to help her find a way home. He finds a ride to the station to pick her up when his parents refuse. Mrs. Baker also learns her husband is alive and will be coming home.

Mrs. Baker takes the kids on an end-of-the-year camping trip, which, despite the rain and bugs, is a memorable experience for Holling. He enjoys spending time there with Meryl Lee and watches what he considers to be a miraculous sunrise. The story ends as Danny completes his bar mitzvah and becomes a man. Holling's father demands Holling define himself and explain where he's headed. Holling bravely but happily admits he doesn't know. He and his classmates share a joyful moment with Mrs. Baker as her husband arrives home.

Christian Beliefs

Holling and his family attend St. Andrews Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings. Holling mentions how Pastor McClellan talks about God sending people messages just before a disaster, saving those who listen to Him. As a Presbyterian, Holling's schedule both at school and on weekends is different from everyone else he knows. He thinks his misfortune with Mrs. Baker is because he's Presbyterian, so God should throw him a bone and let the Yankees play in the World Series.

Catholic kids attend catechism classes on Wednesday afternoon and mass on Saturday afternoon. A Catholic relief agency helps refuges like Holling's Vietnamese classmate, Mai Thi. Holling lies to save himself embarrassment. He says Presbyterians know it isn't all that bad to lie every so often. When Holling feels anger at a bully, he says the feeling inside of him is probably what Presbyterians would call sin. He personally doesn't think it's sin, just the human need for revenge.

When Mrs. Baker takes Holling on an architectural tour of the city, they go into a Catholic church. Holling had previously believed Catholic churches were filled with idols and incense that made people so woozy they'd start praying on their knees. He says Presbyterians know this isn't something that should be done.

He and Mrs. Baker light candles. Holling prays that no atomic bombs will destroy his school or any architectural sites. He also prays for Mrs. Baker's husband in Vietnam, his friend studying for his bar mitzvah and his sister, who has run away. Holling later takes his sister back to the same church to light a candle after Bobby Kennedy is shot. He says if it hadn't been for the miracle of Lt. Baker coming home, he might have given up on the whole Presbyterian thing right there.

At his year-end camping trip, Holling gets up early and watches the sunrise. The beauty of it overwhelms him with hope for the future. He says Pastor McClellan would have called what he saw a vision, and Mrs. Baker might have said it was a miracle. He says Shakespeare would have tried to explain it but couldn't because it was more beautiful than anything ever written.

Other Belief Systems

The Jewish kids in Holling's class attend Hebrew school on Wednesday afternoons and go to Temple Beth-El on Saturday morning. Holling attends Danny's bar mitzvah and describes some of the traditional clothing, readings, etc. He says Danny must feel the weight of God on him as he sings the words, and he must feel the weight of becoming a man.

After Mickey Mantle is rude, Holling talks about the disappointment people feel when their gods die. He says you're never sure whether another god will ever come along who can take that person's place. When Mrs. Bigio and Mai Thi face off in anger, Holling wonders again how many gods are dying for both of them.

Authority Roles

Holling's father is an architect obsessed with success, community awards and outward perfection. He demands Holling and his sister behave in a way that will make the family look good so Hoodhood and Associates will get contracts. He never attends Holling's activities, and he often fails to pick up Holling for events that are important to the boy. Mrs. Hoodhood never attends Holling's activities either. She plays the good wife and adheres to Dad's wishes. Mrs. Baker puts on a hard front, but she pours time, effort and emotion into Holling. She takes him places and attends his activities when his family does not. She becomes the most caring and reliable adult in his life.


Mrs. Baker uses the word a-- while quoting Shakespeare. The word butt appears several times as Holling describes his fairy costume, yellow tights with feathers on his rear end. Holling frequently uses "curses" found in Shakespeare plays. For example, he calls people "pied ninnies."



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Smoking: Holling's mother smokes secretly, but she knows Holling is aware of it. He knows everything will be fine as long as he doesn't tell his father. Some of the older kids at Holling's school smoke in the bathroom.

Prejudice: The school cafeteria worker, Mrs. Bigio, loses her husband in Vietnam. She is initially rude and cruel to Mai Thi because of the girl's nationality. She thinks it's unfair that Mai Thi is able to live in the U.S. while American men are fighting and dying in Mai Thi's country. As the book goes on, Mrs. Bigio and Mai Thi become friends. Mrs. Bigio eventually invites Mai Thi to live with her.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 to 14


Gary D. Schmidt






Record Label



Clarion Books, an imprint of the Houghton Mifflin Company


On Video

Year Published



Newberry Medal, 2008; YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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