A Week in the Woods
Simon and Schuster, 2002 190 pgs
Fifth-grader Mark must move midyear from his beloved West Chester home to "the wilds" of New Hampshire. He resists the move, made worse by the increasing absence of his parents. Left at home with a cook and a handy-man, Mark discovers the beauty in the country around him and begins to explore the woods with snowshoes. Knowing he is switching to a private school in the fall, Mark makes zero effort to connect with teachers and fellow students. Meanwhile, we meet Mr. Maxwell, a science teacher who puts together a yearly spring "week in the woods" event. He tries to be friendly to Mark, but after the boy is rude to him he gives up, thinking Mark a spoiled rich kid. By the time the trip arrives Mark has had a change of heart. He has made some new friends and has cultivated his love of the great outdoors, greatly anticipating the week-long camping trip. The trip is ruined, however, when Mr. Maxwell discovers a camping tool/knife and Mark gets mistakenly blamed for breaking the rules and bringing along a weapon. Mark takes his gear and disappears into the woods, where Mr. Maxwell, discovering his mistake, must find him to make things right.
Andrew Clements is the master of "the school story". A Week in the Woods is a bit of a departure in that much of the action takes place at Mark's home or on the field trip. Still, the main conflict is Mark adjusting to the new school and coming to an understanding with Mr. Maxwell. The book is presented in two points of view (Mark & Mr. Maxwell's) allowing the reader to see both sides of the story. Reading Mr. Maxwell's point of view helps the reader to understand the humanity behind their teachers, while Mark's story sheds light on what can really be going on in the heads of kids who are stand-offish, as well as offering the reader a young character to relate to. Its wonderful to see Mark slowly adjust to a new environment, discover a new hobby, and start to heal after the hurt of the forced move. The real conflict behind the story is Mark's estranged parents and their lack of attention on the boy's life. By the book's end we see the parents making more of an effort to connect to Mark and to spend more time with him, leaving the reader with hope for this relationship. A Week in the Woods is a great story that will be enjoyed by many levels of readers. Appealing to boys more than girls, it can be appreciated by both. Clements really knows how kids think and what is important to them and his books are always realistic and relate-able with a moral message. I'm a big fan of Andrew Clements, my favorites being Frindle and Extra Credit, and feel that A Week in the Woods stands up as one of his best.