It has been said that these stories are strange and silly. That is probably true. (I.6)
This statement probably encapsulates the theme of the book in a single sentence—Sachar totally acknowledges that he's written something silly, and also makes the reader a part of the silliness by addressing the audience directly.
As you know, when the builder built Wayside School, he accidentally built it sideways. But he also forgot to build the nineteenth story. Since there was no nineteenth story, there was no Miss Zarves. (7.22)
Here's a great example of a foolish statement disguised as something perfectly logical, which makes it even funnier. How can someone forget to build a nineteenth story? Why wouldn't the stories just be re-numbered? At Wayside, we're just supposed to accept the folly.
Every once in a while Maurecia would try to take a bite out of Todd's arm in order to get that very special flavor. (9.29)
In a chapter about ice cream flavored like kids in the classroom, this line stands out as one of the silliest. Not only is it silly to think about Todd-flavored ice cream, it's even sillier to think that Maurecia decides to bite him in order to taste him more often.
"Oh, well, it didn't work," said Mrs. Jewls. "At least we tried. Now I guess we'll have to cut your pants off." (12.35)
When Jason is stuck to a chair by Joy's giant wad of gum, everyone has a different solution for how to free him. Mrs. Jewls, the only adult in the room, comes up with this hilarious (and very silly) idea.
"Oh, this is silly," said Rondi. "Everybody thinks the teeth I don't have are cute. I'm not wearing a coat. Don't you all just love my coat? And what about my third arm? I don't have one. Isn't it lovely?" (13.9)
Poor Rondi is tormented by classmates and adults who fawn over her missing teeth as if they really exist. Finally she snaps and delivers this sarcastic rant. Of course, the silliness comes right back into play when her classmates take her literally.
Rondi slapped herself in the face to make sure she was really there. She was. (13.34)
Can you picture this happening? This is a great example of Sachar's hilarious comic timing. Here Rondi is playing "straight man" while the rest of her classmates laugh at the joke she doesn't tell.
Just before recess, Deedee smeared the cream cheese and jelly all over her face. Then she stuffed her mouth with nuts and hung shredded cheese from her nose. When she closed her eyes, she looked just like a dead rat. (15.35)
Don't you love this strategy for how to look like a dead rat? Deedee's pretty creative, isn't she? This is definitely the silliest thing to do with your lunch, ever.
John placed a pillow on top of her desk. Then he looked under the desk, but he couldn't find the Tootsie Rolls anywhere. (17.28)
After John finally stands on his head, he discovers that although his reading ability is fixed, his sense of up and down is kind of muddled. This is the silly punch line to John's mixed-up story.
"Okay, class," said Mrs. Jewls. "So that we have no more mix-ups, I want everyone to write his name on his pencil."
Dameon spent the rest of the day trying to write his name on his pencil.
Dameon's pencil couldn't write on itself. (24.52-54)
Can you think of anything more foolish than asking kids to write their names on their pencils by using the pencils themselves? Doesn't make a lot of sense, does it?
The children all spun around in different directions until they got so dizzy that they fell over. And when they stood up again, nobody knew who anybody was. (28.43)
In Nancy's chapter, all the kids on the thirtieth floor decide to swap names, and this is how they do it. It's a ridiculous method, but at least nobody pukes.
They were quite a pair. Their teamwork was remarkable. Bebe drew pictures as fast as Calvin could pick up the old paper and set down the new—a fish, an apple, three cherries, bing, bing, bing. (6.16)
Bebe and Calvin are perfectly matched, the Batman and Robin of the art room. Calvin is perfectly happy to be Bebe's assistant because he thinks he's no good at art, and Bebe loves having Calvin's help. Even though Bebe ultimately decides to stop drawing so quickly, Bebe and Calvin make a great team because they have the same goal: to make fabulous art.
Then Dameon smiled too. His smile was almost as big as D.J.'s. They were best friends. (16.6)
It seems to make perfect sense that the two kids in class with the biggest smiles are best friends, doesn't it? Here's an example of two kids who probably have compatible personalities.
Joe was John's best friend. He could stand on John's head. Every time John fell over, Joe stood on his head. After all, what are best friends for? (17.11)
One of the funniest (and truest) statements about friendship in the book—illustrating that elementary school friendships can be wonderful and painful at the same time. What are friends for, if not to stand on your head after you fall over? Seriously.
"Can I play?" asked Terrence. "No," said Calvin. "You'll just kick the ball over the fence." (26.21-22)
What is this quote doing in the friendship section? Terrence's story is actually a great example of how not to make friends. He is such a bad sport that he cares more about disrupting games than befriending his classmates.
They were friends for a good reason. He didn't know her name, and she didn't know his. They just called each other "Hey, you," or just plain "You." (28.4)
Nancy and Mac (or Mac and Nancy?) are another perfect pair at Wayside School. Ideally matched because they never ask the other what their first name is, they bond over their mutual hatred of their names and eventually end up swapping. This is an example of a friendship forged over a shared experience no one else really understands.
He was all dressed up as a goblin for Mrs. Jewls's Halloween party.
But unfortunately, it wasn't Halloween.
"Ha, ha, ha, you sure look stupid," said Jason. (29.1-3)
Jason's the first one to tease his best friend Stephen for coming to school dressed up for Halloween. Again, just like Joe who stands on John's head, this must be a sign of true friendship.
Mrs. Jewls looked at the children. They were horribly cute. In fact, they were much too cute to be children.
"I don't believe it," said Mrs. Jewls. "It's a room full of monkeys!"
The children looked at each other. They didn't see any monkeys. (2.5-7)
Here's an example of how Sachar uses appearances for comedy's sake—mistaking a room full of children for a room full of monkeys is hilarious, as is the idea that the kids must be monkeys because real kids couldn't be that cute.
With two eyes she was pretty. With four eyes she was beautiful. With six eyes she would have been even more beautiful. And if she had a hundred eyes, all over her face and her arms and her feet, why, she would have been the most beautiful creature in the world. (11.1)
A very sweet description for Dana, isn't it? Especially sweet because sometimes kids are self-conscious about their glasses, but in this case Dana's glasses magnify her beauty.
Rondi was missing her two front teeth. And those were the most beautiful teeth of all. (13.1)
Poor Rondi is constantly driven to distraction because of her missing teeth, but they're her defining characteristic. In fact, when all the kids try to swap names and forget who everyone is, they figure Rondi out first because of the trademark gap in her smile.
The other two Erics were fat, and so everyone just thought that all the Erics were fat. (22.2)
In the chapter about the three Erics, Sachar writes some very sly commentary about how people tend to make generalizations based on appearances. Even though Eric Bacon is the skinniest kid in class, everyone thinks he's fat because the other two Erics are.
Allison was very pretty, so all the boys in Mrs. Jewls's class teased her, especially Jason. But Allison said, "Leave me alone or I'll knock your teeth out—like I did Rondi's." The boys didn't bother her after that. (23.2)
At Wayside, sometimes the sweet and pretty girls are teased for being sweet and pretty. Allison isn't the only girl who stands up for herself—Maurecia, also pretty, is described as being able to beat up any boy in the class. For these girls, pretty doesn't mean weak, does it?
Of course, his hair was still green. It always was. (29.44)
Here's a good example of how this book uses appearances in a comedic way—Sachar makes us think Stephen's green hair is for his costume, but really Stephen's hair is just green. This is the very funny punch line to Stephen's story.
The children didn't know what to do. They didn't have a teacher. Even though Mrs. Gorf was mean, they didn't think it was right to leave her as an apple. But none of them knew how to wiggle their ears. (1.32)
This is a choice most elementary school kids never have to make, and thankfully Louis shows up at just the right moment to save the students from having to decide Mrs. Gorf's fate. What do you think they would have done without him?
Dana was so upset that she forgot to thank him. Myron didn't mind. He thought that was what being class president was all about. (8.26)
Myron's story is all about making good choices. He helps Dana save her puppy simply because he thinks it's his job as class president, but is that really why he does it? Myron is a great listener and a very good friend, and even though he loses his job as president because of his choices, his heart is in the right place.
It was just a simple matter of being able to think clearly. That was all. Paul thought it over and decided not to pull one. It was as simple as that. (10.18)
Paul's chapter is also about making choices, but it's about making the wrong choices. Even though Paul decides not to pull Leslie's dangling pigtails, which hover temptingly in front of him, his arm makes a different decision and pulls Leslie's pigtail anyway. Too bad, Paul.
Deedee never seemed to notice the signs. She jumped down the stairs. Some children took the stairs two at a time. Deedee took them ten at a time. (15.4)
Deedee has a problem, and she doesn't let things like rules or signs get in her way. In this case, Deedee's choices clearly show her priorities: green balls are more important than rules.
At lunch, Leslie walked up to Louis. "Okay, Louis," she said, "you can have my toes for a nickel apiece. That will be fifty cents." (18.33)
Leslie thinks her own toes are useless, and her story is about making choices based on that opinion. While her choice may seem pretty silly, it also illustrates the genius of Louis the yard teacher, who seems to have a knack for steering Leslie away from a disastrous decision.
She had given her food to her lunch teacher, her book to the librarian, and her ball to the yard teacher. She went inside the classroom. (23.24)
Allison, generous to a fault, makes the choice to give up everything she's brought to school because she's trying to pay back good deeds done by others. Do you think she make her choices for good reasons?
But then Joy had second thoughts. She put back the cake. Then she grabbed Dameon's whole lunch. (27.6)
Joy, missing her own lunch and tempted by Dameon's, decides to steal Dameon's lunch and eat it. She doesn't even get in trouble for it—but her own conscience punishes her later. Here's a case of a bad choice and the negative consequences that go with it.
If you children are bad," she warned, "or if you answer a problem wrong, I'll wiggle my ears, stick out my tongue, and turn you into apples! (1.2)
Okay, so this doesn't really sound like a normal teacher, does it? Here's the first clue in Sideways Stories that the supernatural is actually a real thing at this school.
Mrs. Jewls didn't stop. She took off another one of his coats, and another. Sammy was only four inches tall, three inches tall, two inches tall. At last she removed the final coat. All that was there was a dead rat. (14.36-37)
This is almost heading into Stephen King territory, isn't it? If a dead rat can walk around in layers of smelly raincoats, some kind of weird magic is at work.
Suddenly she screamed. The chalk turned into a squiggling worm! She dropped it on her foot. (29.21)
Chalk that turns into a worm? Yep—we're definitely in the realm of the supernatural.
A woman appeared on the screen. She had a long tongue and pointed ears. She stepped off the screen and into the classroom. It was the ghost of Mrs. Gorf. (29.23-24)
Eek, right? But don't worry—if she ever comes back, just try to hug her and she'll quickly disappear.
"School just speeds things up," said Mrs. Jewls. "Without school, it might take another seventy years before you wake up and are able to count." (2.59)
Here's Mrs. Jewls's excellent answer to Joe's question—what is Joe doing in school if it doesn't seem to be helping him learn to count? Mrs. Jewls says a very wise thing, which is basically: imagine how long it would take to learn things if you didn't go to school…
Mrs. Jewls said that a lot of people learn best when they stare out a window. (3.2)
Mrs. Jewls seems to know that different kids learn in different ways, which is great in theory, although we think she might be a tad too forgiving in Sharie's case. Sharie isn't learning—she's just sleeping.
"Without light I can't teach, and the children can't learn. Only you can give us that light. I think it is a very important job." (8.8)
The class president on the thirtieth floor has one job: turning on the light every day. Mrs. Jewls phrases it very poetically here—even though she can't seem to let someone else turn on the light if the president isn't available.
Mrs. Jewls said, "John, you can't go on reading like this. You can't spend the rest of your life turning your books upside down." "Why not?" asked John. "Because I said so," said Mrs. Jewls. (17.5-7)
What kid hasn't heard because I said so from an adult? Sometimes in education you just have to trust your teachers because they have your best interests at heart—and this is definitely true when it comes to John learning to read right-side up.
"Oh, I've made a big mistake, Maurecia. Of course you can't taste anything. It's Maurecia-flavored ice cream. It's the same taste you always taste when you're not tasting anything at all." (9.21)
Who doesn't love an alternate reality where you can have ice cream flavored to taste like your friends? (And who hasn't wondered, after reading this, what their own ice cream might taste like?)
"We'll just have to turn your mosquito bites into numbers." (11.22)
You know you're in the Wayside universe when a teacher proposes this solution and it actually works. After Mrs. Jewls has Dana count her mosquito bites, her itching vanishes.
As soon as Mrs. Jewls stepped out the door, Rondi and Allison jumped up from their seats and started to tickle Jason. He laughed until his hair turned purple. (12.29)
Everything seems totally normal in this classroom until someone's hair turns purple, doesn't it?
Dead rats were always trying to sneak into Mrs. Jewls's class. That was the third one she'd caught since September. (14.42)
Even though Maurecia-flavored ice cream sounds great, we'd rather not go to school at Wayside if this version of reality has a lot of visiting dead rats.
The whole room seemed to be laughing, not just the people in it. The blackboard chuckled. The ceiling snickered. The desks were jumping up and down, and the chairs were slapping one another on the back. The floor was very ticklish. It laughed until the walls turned purple. The wastepaper basket started to sing, and all the pencils stood up and danced. (16.10)
If this isn't a good description of a totally different reality, we don't know what is. Where to start—the purple walls or the dancing pencils?
"Hey! I can still read the blackboard, and I'm not upside down. I can read right side up now. When I fell, I must have flipped my brain or something." (17.26)
Because everything at Wayside School is just a little bit off, it's possible to flip your brain when you stand on your head. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
There is no Miss Zarves. There is no nineteenth story. Sorry. (19.1)
The non-existent Miss Zarves and the missing nineteenth story are a fabulous example of the kind of nonsense that's possible in the Wayside Universe.
They both spun around one hundred times in opposite directions until they were so dizzy that they fell over. When they stood up, Mac was Nancy and Nancy was Mac. (28.24)
If you want to swap names with someone at Wayside School, all you have to do is spin around until you fall over. Just be careful you don't flip your brain over in the process.
"When two plus two doesn't equal four, anything can happen." (29.42)
Have you ever imagined a reality where two plus two doesn't equal four? When arithmetic goes wrong, we're definitely out of the ordinary.
"We don't really go in for fairy tales here. I'm trying to teach my class the truth." (30.46)
Pay attention, class, because this is a really great example of irony. Mrs. Jewls's version of reality reads a whole lot like fairy tales to us, doesn't it?
When Joe woke up the next day, he had learned how to count. He had fifty-five thousand and six hairs on his head. They were all curly. (2.62)
Just like Mrs. Jewls promises, one day Joe finds the knowledge he's looking for. Not only does he learn to count, he can count unbelievably well—imagine counting every hair on your head.
"No," said Mrs. Jewls. "That isn't how you measure art. It's not how many pictures you have, but how good the pictures are." (6.28)
We won't get into a debate about fine art with Mrs. Jewls, but she teaches an important lesson to Bebe. Art class isn't about how many cats you can draw—it's all about quality over quantity.
"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Jewls, "but the funniest jokes are the ones that remain untold." (13.30)
Right in the middle of Rondi's hilarious story, we get this amazing statement from Mrs. Jewls: sometimes things are funnier if you don't say them out loud. Whether Mrs. Jewls is right or not, this nugget of wisdom almost sounds like a fortune cookie.
D.J. looked up at him. "You need a reason to be sad," he said. "You don't need a reason to be happy." (16.28)
Possibly the wisest and most touching sentiment in the book, D.J. says this when he explains his mysterious Cheshire Cat grin to Louis. If you remember one thing from this book, remember D.J.'s wise words.
It was easier for John to turn his book upside down than to learn to read correctly. But the easiest way isn't always the best way. (17.4)
Sounds like Star Wars, doesn't it? We can almost imagine John taking the path to the Dark Side if he keeps trying to take the easy way out. John's story is a funny and true reminder that sometimes you have to address a problem even if it isn't an easy thing to do.
You don't like Kathy, do you?
See, she was right!
It's funny how a person can be right all the time and still be wrong. (20.29-31)
Kathy's story, about a kid who doesn't like anyone, ends with this true punch to the gut. Her chapter details all the ways in which she thinks others are always wrong, and it has a lot of wisdom in it, which really comes together in this final sentence.
"You learned that children are really smarter than their teachers," said Mrs. Jewls. "Oh, that's no secret," said Allison. "Everyone knows that." (23.33)
Throughout Sideways Stories, we're never sure who's more clueless, the kids or the teachers. Sometimes the kids make more sense, but sometimes the teachers turn out to be wise after all. In this case, Mrs. Jewls underlines this theme while proving herself to be wiser than she seems.
But a horrible thing happened. Joy couldn't forget about filching Dameon's lunch. And for the rest of the year, every turkey sandwich, piece of chocolate cake, apple, and Tootsie Roll Pop tasted like Miss Mush's porridge. (27.37)
Joy learns the hard way that stealing is wrong, not because she's punished, but because her own conscience turns delicious things sour. This is a good example of knowledge and wisdom earned through making a bad choice.