I read the first two of these books when I was a kid about 1000 times each. I think Sideways Stories from Wayside School was like 1000 times, and maybe Wayside School is falling down is more like 900 times, if I am being accurate.
Indeed, I bought both of these from the Scholastic book fair, with the weird onion skin newsprint foldable pamphlet. It was great.
I swear to goodness I read these so many times.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School:
30 stories about 30 kids in a school with 30 stories. Wayside school was accidentally built sideways with everything stacked on top of each other instead of side-by-side. There was no 19th story of course, and then there’s a giant space down below for the playground.
I remember feeling super smart that I figured out ahead of time that Louis WAS Louis Sachar. So post-modern. And of course, I felt super thrilled by any mention of Dead Rats, like they were celebrities.
The best stories in this collection involve students not understanding how school works, not because they are dumb or anything, but because school is often opaque to students who learn differently. So for example, there’s a story where one of the students can’t count the “correct” way, but always gets the answer right, but when he counts the right way, he always gets the answer wrong. It seems like a clear nod to differentiation (even before that was a word people really knew).
In this collection each of the 27 or so students is given a chapter and we learn a little about them.
Wayside school is falling down:
I didn’t know that this book had a 12 year gap between it and the previous one being published. It gives me a sense of wonder at how on the ball Louis Sachar was when he was criticizing bad teaching in ways that newly trained teachers are drilled to understand. On the ball is a pun because Louis is the name of the Yard Teacher, who hands out balls to the students.
The best story in this collection involves a students accidentally finding the mysterious 19th story, where Ms. Zarves teaches. This is a misfit room where once a students gets misplaced they find themselves here. This one hit me right in the teaching part of my brain and heart, because the students are given nothing but busy work that doesn’t let them think, but they get good grades so they don’t complain. Every teacher has done this and we all know it’s wrong, but sometimes it’s all we can do on a day for one reason or the next, but that feeling it produces in lots of students of well, I got my points, I’m good. The issue comes later when they are asked to recall what they learned or to think on their own or just to do something on their own and they just can’t. It’s so frustrating to deal with, and what do they want when that happens? To be given packets. Luckily the student from the main set of stories who end up there fights and get out.
Wayside School is Getting Weirder:
I didn’t even know this book existed. It was published in 1995, right when I was in middle school and should have known about it. Instead, 20 years later I finally got to it. I was hoping that I would get some closure with the mysterious men in mustaches and attache cases from the first two books, but I didn’t.
Instead, the students’ teacher takes maternity leave and they are presented with a series of different substitute teachers. One is the son of their first awful teacher who got turned into an apple and eaten. Another is the old teacher of their Yard Teacher who held decades-long grudges against former students and carried them with her. Finally, they got a woman who was so hurt by a former lover she turned that hurt on others by reading their thoughts and gaslighting them into distrusting their own sense of the world.
I liked this series of different teachers, but it’s funny because it’s almost critical of women taking maternity leave because of how much it disrupts the flow of a school year. My department head is on maternity leave now and has been since February. In the long scheme of things, it’s not much of a break, but when it’s coupled with the general instability our school is facing this year it puts it into a weird perspective. It’s a strange feeling to be supportive and annoyed at the same time. And the person who most strongly implies she’s annoyed is my assistant principal, who was on maternity leave two years ago.
Anyway! This collection was a lot of fun, but I am definitely good with putting Louis Sachar down for a little while. He was the narrator, so if you get a chance, he’s got such a funny, reassuring voice.