I remember buying all of the books in the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar (including Sideways Arithmetic) from my Scholastic book order at school. I loved how they made me laugh when I read them because they were so silly.
I wanted to do Sideways Stories from Wayside School with my third grade book club class last year, but I couldn’t find it at home, so I went to the library and borrowed a copy. The next week, half of my class received the book as a Christmas present from their teacher at school (they all had the same teacher). I guess she thought they would enjoy it, too. And we were both right. Most of the kids, even those that did not normally enjoy reading (i.e., the boys), had started reading the book during snack time. They were laughing so hard that they had to show their friends what they were reading. I had never seen most of them so excited about a book before.
Just what was in this book that made the kids laugh so hard? They were probably laughing at the kid with the raincoats, but I liked the nonsense of school life that this books brings to light. Like the story of the three Erics, where one Eric was called “Fat” because the other two actually were fat, even though “Fat Eric” was actually skinny.
All the short vignettes that make up this book have something to say about life and human nature. My favorites are the one about the boy who couldn’t help but pull the two beautiful long pigtails in front of him (always made me want to pull pigtails ever since I read this as an elementary schooler) and the boy who smiled and smiled all day. Everyone wanted to know why, but he wouldn’t tell them. Finally, he said, “You need a reason to be sad. You don’t need a reason to be happy.”
I was surprised to find such profound insight in a book for kids, especially one that was just supposed to be funny. I doubt most kids would understand some of them until they are older, but there are some playground truths that kids understand already, which may be part of why they find the book funny.
Can be read with interest by at least second to fifth grade, although once middle school hits, the kids might feign disinterest just for the heck of it. That’s okay, because Sachar writes great books for middle schoolers and high schoolers, too. Contains: Gross things, scary teachers, nonsensical school.