After an extended break, Wayside School will soon be back in session, as Mrs. Jewls’s classroom again springs to life in Wayside School: Beneath the Cloud of Doom, illustrated by Tim Heitz. Due out next March from HarperCollins, it will be Louis Sachar’s first addition to the series since 1995’s Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. The series has sold more than 15 million copies in the U.S. since its 1978 debut with Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Rosemary Brosnan, v-p and editorial director of HarperCollins Children’s Books, acquired U.S. and Canadian rights to Beneath the Cloud of Doom from Ellen Levine, executive v-p of Trident Media Group.

Sachar, who won the Newbery Medal and a National Book Award for his 1998 novel Holes, explained that expanding his first novel into a series wasn’t part of his original curriculum. “I had no intention of creating a series,” he said. “I preferred challenging myself with different types of novels, everything from There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, to Holes, to The Cardturner, and most recently Fuzzy Mud. All quite different. All along, I knew I would only go back to Wayside when I felt like I could come up with something fresh and innovative.”

More than two decades after writing his third Wayside School book, Sachar said, “I finally felt inspired to try again. Not only have young readers been asking for more Wayside School stories over the years, but more and more I’m meeting adults who read them as kids and are now introducing them to kids of their own.”

The author discovered that returning to Wayside School (which is 30 stories high rather than 30 classrooms high, due to the builder’s error) was a bit intimidating, given the series’ longevity, but in the end the experience was well worth the brand-new-semester jitters. “I felt a great deal of pressure when I started Beneath the Cloud of Doom,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to disappoint longtime readers. But there was also a true sense of homecoming, although it took a while. The first book took me nine months to write. This one took two years. But once I was fully immersed in the school, it was a joy to reconnect with the characters, the setting, and the absurd logic that holds it all together.”

Few Tweaks Over Time

Asked if readers will find many changes to Wayside School after a quarter-century hiatus, and if he feels that middle-grade readers’ tastes have changed in that time span, Sachar replies, “Readers will discover new things about the same familiar characters and hallways—if you can call it a hallway when there is only one classroom on each floor! In terms of reading tastes and kids’ expectations, it has been my experience that readers don’t change all that much. The kids I meet today are similar to those I met 40 years ago.”

One major thing that has changed dramatically, the author added, is technology. “The first book was written on a typewriter, and I used carbon paper to make a copy. There were Xerox machines then, but carbon paper fit my image of ‘a writer.’ I got my first computer in 1984, so in Wayside School Is Falling Down, a new computer is delivered to Mrs. Jewls’s class. She throws it out the window to teach the kids about gravity!”

Brosnan said she was thrilled when Levine told her that Sachar was writing a new Wayside School novel, and she received the project shortly afterwards. “Ellen sent me the manuscript via email—and it was an amazing email to receive!” Brosnan said. This is the first Wayside School book she has edited, since Brosnan arrived at Morrow (the series’ original hardcover publisher, which was later acquired by HarperCollins) in 1997, two years after the release of Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger. “Louis’s new manuscript was wonderful,” she recalled. “The characters, setting, and humor held up perfectly, and I knew immediately that Louis absolutely hadn’t lost his touch—in fact, he hit it out of the park!”

Might Wayside School’s eclectic students and teachers make another encore appearance in the future? Fans will have to wait for a definitive answer, given Sachar’s candidly noncommittal response: “I have no idea. I never thought I’d write a second one, or a third one, or a fourth.”

Wayside School: Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar. HarperCollins, $17.99 Mar. 2020 ISBN 978-0-06-296538-7