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Schmidt Wins 2nd Newbery Honor
February 4, 2008

A Calvin College professor of English recently received one of the most prestigious national literary awards in the field of children’s literature.

Gary Schmidt’s latest young adult novel, The Wednesday Wars (Clarion Books, 2007), was named a 2008 John Newbery Honor Book by the American Library Association (ALA).  Schmidt, whose book is one of three awarded in the honor category, also received the honor award in 2005 for his novel Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

“It was a different feel,” says Schmidt. “The first time around you feel, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ as you’re getting a different recognition than you’ve ever gotten before. … It’s an affirmation of the work you do.  It was a quieter sweetness.” 

The Wednesday Wars, set in 1967, tells the story of Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grade Presbyterian whose classmates are all Jewish or Catholic. Holling is forced to spend every Wednesday afternoon with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while all his peers attend Hebrew school or catechism. The title refers to the “war” that develops between student and teacher (who could have two hours off each Wednesday afternoon were Holling not in her class) and also to the larger war that serves as the backdrop of the novel.

“The book begins with my own time growing up during the war in Vietnam. Society was really decaying,” says Schmidt. He recalls his childhood and early adolescent years in the 1960s when youth were drafted into war and three significant domestic assassinations—namely two Kennedys and King—took place. 

The Wednesday Wars is directed toward young adults who, according to Schmidt, are living in an era that aligns, yet greatly differs, with Schmidt’s adolescent experience. 

“That just strikes me as an interesting parallel, what it was like to grow up in that time and this time,” Schmidt describes.  “If you were 16 or 17 in 1967, you knew that you were going to be in Vietnam in two years, something looming over you,” says Schmidt.  “One thing that’s similar is that there’s still an Armageddon today; we think of global warming, the end of the oil age, the end of clean water. When you have reports that half of the world will be out of drinkable water within a generation or that the food you buy at the market won’t be good for you, how do we get to that point? That’s where we are. Those parallels are what raise the questions for me, ‘How do kids get to where they are?’” 

In his literature, Schmidt likes to ask the questions that adolescents are asking to discover their identities. “That’s intriguing to me. Adolescence is a critical time in life when you really do make decisions that develop who you are. How many adults do you know who are flexible and are rethinking the decisions they’ve priorly made?”

Schmidt received the news of his latest Newbery honor at the North Bridge Inn in Concord, Massachusetts during his annual New England Saints Interim, a January class that explores the historical settings of American literature.  He and his wife, Anne, called their children back home, then celebrated with the students. “The students had bought us a cheesecake, and we went down to the Old North Bridge there and reenacted the battle. And that was our celebration.”

Schmidt’s next novel, Trouble, due in March, is a tragedy-romance based in 1976 about the relationship between two neighboring Massachusetts towns—one of the established middle-class and the other of Cambodian refugees.

~ Written by Communications and Marketing assistant writer Jacqueline Klamer