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Strasser, Todd. (1981). The Wave. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers. 144 pp.

Grade Range: 6-12

Genre: nonfiction

Summary and Critique

The Wave will intrigue readers from the beginning. It is a story based upon actual events that took place as the result of a History class experiment in a California high school in 1969. Ben Ross, a high school history teacher, begins his usual unit on World War II with a film strip depicting the horrors that occurred in Nazi concentration camps. His students have mixed reactions to the film. Among them, Laurie, a popular student, raises questions that the teacher cannot answer and states that this type of event could never happen again. The teacher concocts an experiment to illustrate to his students just how this type of blind following can easily happen, even in their own school. It begins simply enough as a game in his history class but soon the students want to spread their new found discipline to other areas of the school including the school's football team. As time passes, the other teachers, administration, and a handful of students become more concerned with the effects of the Wave, the term given to the experiment. Eventually, Mr. Ross must also acknowledge that things have gone too far and must devise a plan to put an end to the fast-spreading craze. In the end, the students learn a valuable lesson about blindly following a leader.

    The fluid, readable style allows secondary students to understand the text, while still engaging adult readers with a fascinating story. In addition to bringing to life a pivotal piece of history, the novel raises questions about contemporary issues and attitudes as well as the power of persuasion and group versus individual psyche. The Wave brings its characters to life. It is well suited for high school or middle school students because it addresses the issues of peer pressure and the fine line between fitting in and blindly following the crowd. It illustrates how quickly people can be convinced that their individual rights are not really important and how important it is for some people to feel as though they are accepted as part of the group. This book is rich in discussion topics and may be used to connect language arts and social studies/history


    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    The Individual vs. Society

    The Holocaust

    Friends and Enemies

    Challenges and Triumphs

Author/Illustrator/Editor Information

    Todd Strasser was born in New York City in 1950. The author attended New York University for a few years, then dropped out and moved to Europe working as a street musician. During this time he wrote numerous songs, poems, and letters until finally deciding to try being a writer. Strasser returned to the U.S. and studied literature and writing at Beloit College. He has won over 20 awards for his work in Young Adult Literature, including his series Help! I'm Trapped. When not speaking at schools and conferences, the writer now resides in Westchester County, N.Y.

For more information on Tom Strasser: Web site offering information about Todd Strasser (e.g. biographical facts, other works, awards, conference and workshop details).

Media Connections


    The Wave (1981) Norman Lear, an American film maker, made a television adaptation of the novel. The film won a Peabody and Emmy award.

    Schindler's List (1993) Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives on over 1000 Jews during the Holocaust.

    Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) This film recounts the retrial and conviction of the assassin of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The film portrays the difficulties in obtaining justice for a slain civil rights activists. Through perseverance, his wife achieves justice 30 years later.

    Remember the Titans (2000) In 1971, a high school football team in Virginia is shaken up when a court order demands integration of all public schools. The white head football coach is demoted and a black man is given the position. The team eventually comes together as a unit despite the high racial tensions plaguing the community. This film shows respect of differences and a desire to win overcoming racial prejudice.

    Erin Brockovich (2000) A single mother working as a legal assistant discovers a scandal within a major corporation that has unknowingly been wreaking havoc on the health of a small town for years. Erin Brockovich risks her reputation and her life to stand up to the powerful company and expose their wrong-doings. She restores the community and brings justice to the corporation.

    Fire Within (2003) This documentary explores the relationship forged between 10 teenagers from varying religious and cultural backgrounds. The film follows their journey and deals with issues of difference and understanding.

    The Prime of Ms. Jean Brodie (1969) This film deals with teacher/student relationships. It addresses the impact a teacher can have on a group of students the consequences of blindly following a leader, and the power that teachers have over vulnerable students.

    Hoosiers (1986) Hoosiers is one of the best known films for illustration of teamwork and discipline. This Indiana basketball team comes from behind to become state champions and local heroes. Gene Hackman exhibits a positive leadership role and shares the benefits of hard work and team play.

    The Stepford Wives (2004) This is a remake of the 1975 film in which ordinary small-town wives are molded into the perfect wives. It beautifully illustrates equality gone awry.

    Bowling for Columbine (2002) This documentary film deals with some of the events leading up to the disaster at Columbine High School. It not only addresses the issues that the troubled Teens faced, it also gives a culturally different perspective from Teens in Canada.


    American Dream - any episode (Philadelphia in the 1960s, deals with racial issues and tensions of the time)

    Cheers - episode where a gay couple begins frequenting the bar and the regular patrons start to worry that it is going to turn into a gay establishment.

    Lizzie McGuire - Many of the episodes deal with peer pressure, discovering individual identities, dealing with teachers and group work in school.


    "I Believe." Lyrics by Eliot Sloan and Blessid Union of Souls. Home. Capital, 1995. (An African American man laments the problems of today, claiming that love is the answer with which we must fight prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and hate.)

    "My Hero." Performed by the Foo Fighters. From Colour and the Shape. RCA, 1997 (Deals with the notion of an ordinary person being able to make a change.)

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Greene, Bette. (1973). Summer of My German Soldier. New York: Puffin Books. 230pp. A twelve-year-old Jewish girl befriends a Nazi prisoner of war.

    Miller, Arthur. (1953). The Crucible. Dramatists Play Service, Inc. 152pp. A play about the seventeenth-century witch-hunts and trials in Salem, Massachusetts. Written as a parallel to reflect the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era, the play portrays the consequences of a community engulfed by hysteria.

    Staples, Suzanne. (2003). Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind. New York: Laurel Leaf. 288pp. An eleven-year-old Pakistani girl must decide if she will obey custom and marry a man she does not love or defy her father's wishes and refuse to get married.

    Rochman, Hazel. (1990). Somehow Tenderness Survives: Stories of Southern Africa. Harper Collins Children's Books. 208pp. South African authors share their experiences with racism and apartheid.

    Cormier, Robert. (1997). The Chocolate Wars. Alfred A Knopf, Inc 272pp. Jerry, a high school freshman, is subjected to both physical and emotional pain from his school's bullies when he refuses to participate in a school fund raiser.

    Volavkova, Hana. (1994). I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942-1944. Schocken Books. 128pp. A collection of poems and pictures created by the young inmates in the Terezin Concentration Camp.

    Kennedy, John F. (1956). Profiles in Courage. New York: Harper. 266pp. Written while JFK was a newly-elected U.S. Senator, this book tells of the courage and integrity demonstrated by eight former U.S. Senators in the face of overwhelming challenges. The stories offer a poignant reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

    Spinelli, Jerry. (2000). Stargirl. New York: Knopf. 208pp.
    The author addresses the issues that high school students face, including themes about finding one's individual identify, loyalty, and friendships. Stargirl is forced to decide whether she will conform to the norm or continue to live as an individual. Her boyfriend, Leo, must face himself and decide whether or not he has the courage to stand behind Stargirl.

    Gobble, Beth. (2004). The Lottery. Orca Book Publishers. 272pp. Gobbie puts a modern twist on this classic short story. The setting is moved to a modern day high school that is ruled by the popular group. They single out a student every year to be shunned by the entire student body. It also addresses the themes of self knowledge and free choice.

    Braithwaite, Edward Ricardo. (1990). To Sir With Love. Jove. 189pp. A teacher wins the hearts and minds of his students by showing them that he believes in them. The themes addressed are the student/teacher relationship, trust, understanding, and the impact that an effective teacher can have on impressionable youth.

    Courtenay, Bryce. (1996). The Power of One. New York: Ballantine Books. 528pp. This novel is told from the point of view of a young man living in South Africa during World War II. As he struggles to make sense of the inequality and chaos around him, he seeks the guidance of two older men. He comes to realize that one person can elicit change even though the notion of freedom may remain elusive.

    Gallo, Donald (ed.). (2003). On the Fringe. New York: Penguin. 240pp. Eleven young adult authors contribute to this anthology of short stories that call attention to issues that teenagers face. The themes include high school pecking order, peer pressure, popularity, non-conformity, acceptance, and hate.

    Aguado, Bill. (2003). Paint Me Like I Am: Teen Poems from WritersCorps. HarperCollins. 144pp. WritersCorps is a group of teenage writers, and this is an anthology of their poetry. They address issues that they face from their own perspectives and with their own voices.

Teaching Ideas

    (1) "How Do You View This Portrait?" Start the exercise by projecting a portrait on a screen in the classroom. Ask the class to study the portrait and write down three or four noticeable characteristics of the portrait's subject or surroundings, using the viewpoint of a neutral observer who knows nothing of the subject's character. Next ask the students to describe the same character, only this time to think of the subject in a favorable light, for example, as a beloved grandfather or best friend. Then have the students describe the same characteristics in an unfavorable way, perhaps imagining the character as a convicted murderer or someone who has stabbed them in the back. This activity will not only give students practice in using language to illustrate different viewpoints, but will also give them the realization that all people do not perceive the world in the same way.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Portraits and Points of View" by Lance Voss in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1992, p. 3.]

    (2) "Deception" Have students prepare two- to three-minute speeches about an interesting or unusual experience. The catch is that the experience may be either real or made up; the speaker's objective in preparing and presenting the speech is to fool the class. A true story must be presented in such a way, without changing the facts, that the audience does not believe it. An invented story must be made as convincing as possible. In preparing and practicing their speeches, students will want to consider factors that lend to or detract from credibility, such as word choice, degree of understatement or overstatement, tone of voice, inflection, mannerisms, body language, and others. Students present their stories to the class, and the others students vote on whether or not it is true. If the speaker succeeds in deceiving the majority of the class, he or she receives a few extra credit points in addition to the speech grade. This activity encourages careful listening and evaluation, and provokes discussion of the cues that lead us to believe or disbelieve what we hear. [Summarized/adapted from "Deliberate Deceit" by Carol Bland in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. January 1987, p.3]

    (3) "Persuasion" Begin by writing the word"persuasion" on the board and asking students what it means. Now discuss the types of persuasion that students are most familiar with in printed and visual advertising. For example, cite advertisements for donations to relief organizations that use pictures of malnourished children with sad, sunken eyes and bulging stomachs. Students recognize such ads as appeals to emotions. Next, students look through magazines for examples of advertisements using other types of appeals. Then read a copy of Jonathan Edward's"Hellfire and Brimstone" sermon aloud to the students, who recognize that fear was the appeal that Edward's used. Assign students to search for three to four examples of persuasion in magazines, newspapers, commercials, etc. Have them create a poster of the various advertisements, identifying and explaining the types of persuasion used.

    [Summarized/adapted from "The Art of Persuasion" by Paula J. Campbell in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. March 1992, p. 8.]

    (4) "Character Values" Students use a teacher generated character assessment sheet in order to determine the value systems of the characters in the novel. They are to list the name of the character and then choose from a menu of character traits to describe the character. After having made the selections, the students must support the decisions with text evidence. The assignment can be used to evaluate student understanding of character motivation or modified to be used as a group activity by dividing the class into groups after they have filled out the sheets, the purpose being to have a guided discussion regarding character motivation.
    [Summarized from "Character Assessment Assignment" by Ronald Barron in Ideas Plus Book 14. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, pp35-36.]

    (5) "Portfolio Box" This activity can be used as a one time project or an on-going assessment tool. Students are given a box and are told to decorate the outside with images that represent their external selves. The inside of the box is used to collect student writing assignments and visual aids that relate to the topics being covered. Some possible writing assignments related to this novel: the students write an"I Am" poem to share their personality traits; write an essay describing things you would change about the world; choose an editorial from a newspaper and respond; if you were a teacher, how would you teach history? This is a very adaptable activity that can be used in conjunction with many units.

    [Adapted from "The Portfolio Box: A Glimpse into the Lives of Your Students" by Heather Borden in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1997, pp. 2-3].

    (6) "Literature Connections" This is a set of activities that help students begin to make connections between the literature they are studying, themselves, and those around them. This adaptation will focus on sets of activities listed for character and theme connections. The students are given the following directions: 1. Explain how a character in the current story reminds you of a character in another story. This can be done in the form of a poem, essay, letter, or other written format. 2. Tell how this character reminds you of someone you know. 3. Select a theme or idea from the current reading that you would like to know more about and prepare a brief research presentation for the class. As an on-going assignment, students would compile the activities into binders that would be shared with classmates. This provides great opportunities for the students to make literature connections and become published authors in the classroom setting.

    [Adapted from "Literature Meets Life" by Marcia Fisher in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. January 1997, pp.l-2.]

(Review written by Erin Lewis and Jeannette Driscoll and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)