Mrs. Baker is not entirely thrilled with having one student for the afternoon. After several afternoons of cleaning the rat cage, clapping erasers, etc., she decides to teach him Shakespeare. (I have to make very non-literary admission that I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan, probably because I never had a teacher who loved Shakespeare and made it come alive for me). Mrs. Baker helps Holling fall in love with Shakespeare, and also work through some typical middle school problems.
This book has a million great scenes- Holling very reluctantly dressing up in yellow tights and having his picture in the local paper, a pair of classroom rats devouring a pan of cream puffs that Holling has purchased for his class, another scene later where the custodian decides to clean all of the debris the rats have collected in the ceiling, and still another where the rats chase Holling across a field.
As funny as the book is, it offers a great glimpse into the Vietnam War era, including one chapter, also where Martin Luther King, Jr. dies. I could definitely see reading it to a middle or high school history class. It also offers great opportunities for kids to think about their relationships with their parents. Holling's mom and dad seem very distant and uninvolved in his life- they don't go to his play or sporting events. Holling's dad, a self-centered architect, is particularly troubling to me. I bet a lot of kids (and probably lots of adults too) could identify with this very distant dad.