There was a terrible mistake - Wayside School was built with one classroom on top of another, thirty stories high (The builder said he was sorry.) Maybe that's why all kinds of funny things happened at Wayside-especially on the thirteenth floor. (Goodreads)
Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek
Wayside School was a mistake: the builder accidentally made a school consisting of 30 rooms on top of one another, instead of next to each other. Because of this strange origin, Wayside School has always been a little odd. In this book, the first of a trilogy, Louis Sachar tells 30 short stories about the classroom on the thirtieth floor.
Although Louis Sachar is best known for his Newbery Winner, Holes, the WAYSIDE SCHOOL books have become somewhat of a cult classic since the first book's publication in 1985. And for good reason--these books are absurd, creative, and completely hilarious. Each chapter revolves around a distinct character within the Wayside universe. Examples
include Bebe, an artist with a mischievous saboteur of a younger brother; Todd, a student who always manages to get sent home early on the kindergarten bus; and Miss Zarves, a teacher who may or may not exist.
Of course, Sachar also enjoys a dark twist on this concept. For instance, the first chapter revolves around Mrs. Gorf, a teacher who hates kids and can turn them into apples by wiggling her ears and sticking out her tongue. Sachar is Roald-Dahl-esque in his presentation of adults: they are either evil or a bumbling combination of well-meaning, misguided, or simply clueless. However, the recurring character of Louis the yard teacher, like the author himself, is always on the side of the children. This role makes him a
redeeming ally for parents who may be reluctant to expose their children to the more frightening adult figures in the series.
Each chapter is very short and can serve as a standalone story. However, it is essential to read them in order, as characters and details appear and reappear throughout the stories. If you and/or your children enjoy Sachar's unique brand of absurdist humor, be sure to check out the other two books in the series: Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. Two more companion books, brain teasers called Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, also exist, but may be difficult to find in print. Check for them online if the stories pique your child's interest!
Market: Children's fiction (I'd say 2nd-5th grade)
Language: Some creative, elementary-school-style insults, but pretty tame overall
Adult Themes: Frightening teachers, some bullying behaviors, like name-calling