Friday, June 8, 2012
48 Hour Book Challenge - When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
One of my goals for the 48 Hour Book Challenge was to catch up on some older kidlit that I'd previously overlooked. I also want to get some more award-winners under my belt. Kimberly Willis Holt's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town fit both categories nicely, as an older title (1999) that won the National Book Award plus ALA Notable status. And I'd read Holt's novel The Water Seeker last year and really enjoyed that, so I've been looking forward to this one.
Zachary Beaver did not disappoint. Despite being a quick read, it was a surprisingly emotional and impactful one, with lots of heavy themes that are carried out with the lightest of touches. Holt's depiction of small-town Texas life is realistic, and her characters are personalities but never charicatures. Zachary Beaver breezes into town as a sideshow attraction, "the fattest boy in the world," and like everyone else in town, Toby and his best buddy Cal can't miss out on the show. But when Zachary's guardian leaves him behind, Toby discovers a sudden kinship with this boy, unexpected since Toby himself never realized how much his own life parallels Zachary's. Left behind by his mother who's gone seeking fame and fortune, Toby struggles to reconcile his feelings about his mom with his newfound friendship with Zachary, worry about Cal's older brother Wayne in Vietnam, and his attempts to woo the beautiful Scarlett Stallings. In the end, Toby sees that though external appearances may differ, people are all the same deep within, and loss touches us all in ways we could never imagine.
Holt's not shy about facing difficult situations, and about putting her characters in places that other authors might think twice about. But the result is a well-developed plot that is peopled with the kind of folks we all know, and that we're sure to recognize in our own friends, family and selves. This is a well-rounded and highly readable award winner that belongs in every classroom and library - lots to discuss here, in a story that will keep young readers turning pages.
When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt, published by Henry Holt
Sample: "Cars and pickups pull into the Dairy Maid parking lot. Some people make no bones about it. They just get in line to see him. Ohters try to act like they don't know anything about the buzz. They enter the Dairy Maid, place their orders, and exit with Coke floats, chocolate-dipped cones, or curlicue fries, then wander to the back of the line. They don't fool me."