I’ve had long hair most of my life (except for that regrettable period in high school I wish to forget) and in fifth grade, it was the primary reason I was cast as “Leslie” in our class adaptation of Louis Sachar’s 1978 classic book Sideways Stories from Wayside School. No, I can’t credit my superior acting abilities; it just happens that I was the only girl in class with hair that could be styled in two pigtail braids long enough to be theatrically yanked by “Paul”.
In our short scene, Paul was taunted by each of Leslie’s braids, which were literally begging to be pulled. So pull them he did, and each time I got to yell. Paul got in trouble each time he succumbed to temptation, but finally kept himself from doing it again. This didn’t keep my Leslie from yelling one last time, thus getting Paul punished as the teacher became fed up with his pigtail-pulling antics. This is as normal as it gets at Wayside School.
We acted out the little scenes because my fifth grade class was crazy about Wayside School. We gobbled up each story in each book in the series, giggling hysterically as Calvin got a potato tattoo on his ankle, Jenny accidentally came to school on a Saturday, Maurecia ate Maurecia-flavored ice cream, and Allison was sent to the non-existent 19th floor with a note to give to a non-existent teacher… and then gets trapped there. To this day the characters are so memorable that I will still make joking references to them in conversation – jokes that often fall flat because the other person sadly does not have the foggiest idea about Sachar’s magnum opus. Did you think his Newbery-winning book Holes was his greatest achievement? Think again! (On GoodReads, Sideways Stories is Sachar’s highest rated book – well above Holes and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom.)
I own personal copies of these books, because they have given me so many memories. Never fear, though, our Fontana Libraries also have copies. You, too, can read these zaniest of books and then understand my hilarious references to them when we have our next conversation. Or you could recommend them to a child who enjoys silly stories. They’re great for reluctant readers because they’re short, sweet, and utterly wacky. Also, sometimes gross (see: Sammy). In other words, they’re perfect — just like Maurecia-flavored ice cream.