Sideways Stories from Wayside School
By Louis Sachar
Illustrated by Julie Brinckloe1
Avon Books/HarperCollins, 19782
Sideways Stories is the first Wayside School book, of which there are four main books and two companion books of word/math games. It is recommend for ages eight and up, and has a Grade level Equivalent of 4.9. It is probably really a perfect read-aloud book for 6-8 year olds, although it can be (and is) enjoyed by older kids and adults. It was also Louis Sachar's first book.
Wayside School is an elementary school just like any other. Except, of course, that when the architects built it, they accidentally built it sideways, so instead of having one story with 30 classrooms, it is 30 stories high, with one classroom per story. (Except the 19th story. They also forgot to put in the 19th story.) Sideways Stories is a collection of 30 short-short stories (except for the 19th story; they left out the 19th story) about the students and teachers of the 30th-story classroom. And Louis, the yard teacher.3
We meet Myron, who has big ears, and was the best class president ever, but no one knew it. John, who has a big round head, and can only read words that are upside-down (and so must be taught to stand on his head). Kathy, who doesn't like you (she doesn't know you, but she doesn't like anyone). Todd, who is always in trouble and who saves the class from bank robbers. And Sammy, who is actually a dead rat. And of course, everyone else.
Every story is silly; some are very silly, some are extremely silly, and some break the silliness barrier. Some are almost zen-like, some are dumb jokes, some are heavy on the morals, and some are the beginnings of elaborate jokes that will span all four books. They are all good fun. There is no real plot.
Each story is about 2-4 pages long, fast moving, and engaging. At only 118 pages, the book goes by pretty fast no matter how you parcel it out, so it is a satisfying book to hand to a young reader or a good book for a series of short read-alouds. It is full of jokes and puns and odd ideas, so it is a good book to read along with a child who might not understand some of the silliness. This also means that kids can read it again and again and discover new things each time. I have been reading it every few years for as long as I can remember, and still enjoy it. It has aged surprisingly well, and is entirely relatable to children even 35 years after it was first published.
Having said that, I like the second book in the series, Wayside School is Falling Down, even more.
1. Julie Brinckloe did the most well-known illustrations for the 1985 edition. The 2003 reissue was illustrated by Adam McCauley, and there have been a few re-mixes of his art on various covers. I have been unable to determine if the very limited 1978 run was illustrated. By the way, if you have a first edition, treat it nice, it's a collector's item.
2. Avon books has changed ownership a number of times, and is now an imprint of HarperCollins that focuses on romance novels.
3. Louis Sachar wrote this book after working at a local elementary school to earn college credits. He was a general classroom helper, but also took over the duties of the yard teacher, making sure that the kids didn't have too much fun on the playground. Despite the fact that he appears frequently in Sideways Stories and admits that he named the Wayside School students after Hillside Elementary School students, he insists that Wayside School is a figment of his imagination.