"It has been said that these stories are strange and silly. That is probably true."
Sideways Stories from Wayside School is an odd little book. It consists of thirty stories about the students and teachers at Wayside School, which was supposed to be thirty little classrooms all in row but was accidentally built sideways as a 30-story tall tower. The book follows the kids who attend class on the top floor, and the strange goings-on that seem to happen every day.
For example, the very first story deals with the mean Mrs. Gorf, who can turn the students into apples. Other chapters tell about Sharie, who sleeps so much she doesn't notice when she falls out a window, or D.J., who is always happy and smiling but won't tell anyone why. The stories are short and punchy, filled with laughs and strange occurances, and occasionally veering into the bizarre (such as a little boy named Nancy trading names with a little girl named Mac, and henceforth the boy is called Mac and the girl is called Nancy).
Sachar's text and McCauley's illustrations (which mark the start of each story and often refer to a major event within the same) really sell how odd this school is. It is this absurdity that fuels the stories; many of them don't make sense and aren't supposed to, much to B's dismay. Sideways Stories from Wayside School is a HILARIOUS book, and many times I had to stop reading for a second because I was laughing too hard. I think you and your children will be just as amused and thrilled as we were.
The stories are relatively short, often only 3-5 pages, and so you can read several stories in a sitting if you want (and we did, often reading four chapters each time we had reading time). The individual stories have little impact on each other; references are made to earlier events, but by and large the chapters can be taken and read individually. This is not a book with one overarching plot.
In contrast to the last story we read (James and the Giant Peach), the speaking cast here is HUGE; 28 students, three adults (Mrs. Gorf, new teacher Mrs. Jewls, and Louis the yard teacher) and various side characters. Due to the large cast, I didn't really modulate my voice for this book. The only characters I developed a specific tone for were the three main teachers:
As much as I love this book (I read the whole series as a kid and vividly remember them), these stories are very much a product of the time in which they were written. Paul has an uncontrollable urge to pull Leslie's pigtails, to the point at which the pigtails start speaking to him. Terrence kicks all the balls over the fence so none of the children have any balls at recess, and so Louis kicks him over the fence at the urging of the other students. Todd is regularly sent home early on the kindergarten bus for getting in trouble three times a day, despite the fact that he is not a bad kid. I can see certain parents reading between the lines in these stories a bit too much.
Honestly, though, the only people who will have hangups about these stories are parents. Kids will just think they're stories, little funny tales about odd children and even odder teachers. My kids weren't upset when Terrence got kicked over the fence. He was being a rude little boy. (A specifically said that Terrence's punishment was "justice").
Parents should be aware that these stories are the product of an earlier time, but that does not detract from their humor. I can recommend this book to ages 7 and older, mostly because kids younger than that will not get many of the jokes or wordplay.
"These stories are SO FUNNY but [they] made no sense! My favorite story is Joe. When he counted correctly, he got the wrong answer, but when he counted wrong, he got the right answer. It doesn't make sense!"
"My favorite story is Terrence. He got kicked over the fence because he kicked all the balls over the fence."
"My favorite was Dameon. He had to run up and down all the stairs just so Louis could watch a movie! And I also liked Bebe because she drew all the pictures."
If you like humor, wordplay, strange happenings, and general weirdness, Sideways Stories from Wayside School is right up your alley. The stories occasionally deliver a simple message (e.g. "Don't be mean" or "Take your time") that's easy for little children to understand. The jokes may not be for everyone, but not all jokes are. The chapters are short, the text is easy to read, and most importantly, the book is funny as all get out.
For example, in Mrs. Jewls's class each student is allowed one pencil. Then the following happens:
"Okay, class," said Mrs. Jewls. "So that we have no more mix-ups, I want everyone to write his name on his pencil."
Dameon spent the rest of the day trying to write his name on his pencil.
If you and your kids like funny stories, give Sideways Stories from Wayside School a look. Just don't end up as an apple.
Recommended Age: 5 and up