Sachar, L. (1978). Sideways Stories from Wayside School. New York: Avon Books.
This is the first book in Sachar’s famous and much loved Wayside School series. While not lacking action, each chapter presents itself as a character sketch of the students and teachers on the 30th floor of Wayside School, which was accidentally built up vertically instead of the planned horizontally. Sachar (pronounced Sack-er) actually included himself as a character, Louis the yard teacher.
While this series may be best for allowing students to enjoy books that will make them laugh out loud, a teacher could also share a general lesson on metafiction and Surrealism. The teacher would be able to bring in other children’s books (such as Jumanji or Zathura by Chris Van Allsburg) that show absurd or dream-like qualities.
While I remember finding these character sketches immensely entertaining as a child (and I know I wasn’t alone) I had a very different experience reading the series as an adult and as a teacher. I remember as a child, thinking the young replacement for Mrs. Gorf was a good teacher. Reading it this time, I felt Mrs. Jewls still managed to fall short as a teacher when it came to communicating with students.
As the series go on, what initially are basic character profiles extends out into long running jokes and overlapping plots. All of the books demonstrate the fun a writer or student can have with language.
Also, this is a good series to share with undergrads studying to be educators. There are a number of commentaries about different approaches to teaching.
Scroll back up and look at the cover of the cover art of the recent edition. Go on. Do it. Then scroll back down. Now, it could just be me and my cold of doom. But it is WAY too busy. It gives me a headache. I prefer the cover to the right. Pleasant and it manages to incorporate the original cover art from the 1970s. And no headache. What more could a reader ask for?
Activities to do with the book:
This series is probably best to amuse middle grade readers.
However, if a teacher really wanted to do lessons with this book, he or she could lead students into a discussion of surrealism. As for activities, a teacher could encourage students to record their dreams and turn them into stories.
Also, since there are so many characters in the book, each student in a class could be assigned a character and he or she could play that character if the books were acted out or the student could write a continuation of that character’s story. Another option would be to write a story in which the student was one of the many characters.
“It has been said that these stories are strange and silly. That is probably true. However, when I told stories about you to the children at Wayside, they thought you were strange and silly. That is probably also true” (p. 9).
“[The student] were afraid of what their new teacher would be like. They had heard she’d be a terribly nice teacher. They had never had a nice teacher. They were terribly afraid of nice teachers” (p. 15).
“Class,” said Mrs. Jewls. “Let’s all thank Louis for his wonderful story.”
Everybody booed” (p. 124).