When Zachary Beaver Came to Town Student Packet

Overview

Nothing ever happens in Toby’s small Texas town. Nothing much until this summer that’s full of big changes.
It’s tough for Toby when his mother leaves home to be a country singer. Toby takes it hard when his best friend Cal’s older brother goes off to fight in Vietnam. Now their sleepy town is about to get a jolt with the arrival of Zachary Beaver, billed as the fattest boy in the world. Toby is in for a summer unlike any other, a summer sure ...
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Overview

Nothing ever happens in Toby’s small Texas town. Nothing much until this summer that’s full of big changes.
It’s tough for Toby when his mother leaves home to be a country singer. Toby takes it hard when his best friend Cal’s older brother goes off to fight in Vietnam. Now their sleepy town is about to get a jolt with the arrival of Zachary Beaver, billed as the fattest boy in the world. Toby is in for a summer unlike any other, a summer sure to change his life.

1999 National Book Award winner for Young People's Literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Deirdre Donahue
This book packs more emotional power than 90% of the so called grown-up novels taking up precious space on bookshelves around the country. Kimberly Willis Hot's When Zachary Beaver Came to Town will resonate with readers.
USA Today
Horn Book
In her own down-to-earth, people, smart way, Holt offers a gift...It is a lovely---at times even giddy---date with real life.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When "the fattest boy in the world" rolls into Antler, Tex., in a trailer, 13-year-old Toby's perspective can't help but change. In a starred review of this National Book Award winner, PW praised the "well-developed characters, all fantastic and flawed in their own ways, [who] add plenty of spice." Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 1999: The summer of Toby's 13th year is full of changes. It's 1971, and his best friend Cal's big brother has gone off to fight in Vietnam. Toby's mother has left too, gone to Nashville to pursue her dream of becoming a singing star. Toby has been left behind in the tiny town of Antler, Texas with his quiet postmaster Dad, who raises worms. Toby has a crush on pretty Scarlett, but she has eyes only for Juan. The big excitement in town is the arrival of a trailer containing the fattest boy in the world—Zachary Beaver, all 643 pounds of him. This tale of Toby and Cal's growing friendship with Zachary is full of humor as well as sadness as Toby learns to deal with loss. It's beautifully and sensitively related by Holt (author of My Louisiana Sky), who displays a finely tuned sense of place and time. A rich and satisfying read. KLIATT Codes: J*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1999, Random House, Dell, Laurel-Leaf, 227p.,
— Paula Rohrlick
Library Journal
Gr 5-8-A humdrum Texas summer is transformed when Toby and Cal befriend a surly sideshow star, arguably "the fattest boy in the world." Holt deftly fleshes out her characters and expands their worldview beyond the borders of their small town. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Holt reinvents the coming-of-age story, breathing life into a quirky cast of characters that inhabits the enervated town of Antler, Texas. It's said that nothing ever happens in Antler, so the arrival of a trailer decked out with Christmas lights is news. Soon the townsfolk are lining up to peek at Zachary Beaver, world's fattest boy. A master at finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, the author peoples her town with a quiet postmaster/worm-raising father, aspiring country-singer mother, watchful sheriff, eccentric judge, town historian Miss Myrtie Mae, flirt Scarlett, and, at the center of it all, sensitive narrator Toby Wilson and his sidekick, best friend Cal. In the lazy days of one summer, Toby makes a good friend, loses his mother to the Grand Ole Opry, dances under the moonlight with heartbroken Scarlett, and tries to toughen up after the death of Cal's brother, who's been serving in Vietnam. Toby is an unusually strong narrator—awkward, earnest, and conflicted—who feels bad about a lie or simple wrongdoing. He nudges the lingering, Sunday-drive of a plot forward until, in the end, the gawked-at carnival boy in the trailer proves a most unlikely means of redemption. The events of the story combined may seem no larger than a pebble underfoot, yet the characters tug at readers, gaining steadily their attention and affection. (Fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781581306750
  • Publisher: Novel Units, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

Kimberly Willis Holt’s first novel, My Louisiana Sky, was an ALA Notable Book and an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. It also received a Boston Globe—Horn Book Honor Award. Her most recent book is Keeper of the Night.
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Read an Excerpt

Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas. Nothing much at all. Until this afternoon, when an old blue Thunderbird pulls a trailer decorated with Christmas lights into the Dairy Maid parking lot. The red words painted on the trailer cause quite a buzz around town, and before an hour is up, half of Antler is standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.

Since it's too late in the summer for firecrackers and too early for the Ladybug Waltz, Cal and I join Miss Myrtie Mae and the First Baptist Quilting Bee at the back of the line.

Miss Myrtie Mae wears a wide-brimmed straw hat. She claims that she's never exposed her skin to sun. Even so, wrinkles fold into her face like an unironed shirt. She takes her job as town historian and librarian seriously, and as usual, her camera hangs around her neck. "Toby, how's your mom?

"Fine," I say.

"That will really be something if she wins."

"Yes, ma'am, it will." My mouth says the words, but my mind is not wanting to settle on a picture of her winning. Mom dreams of following in the footsteps of her favorite singer, Tammy Wynette. Last month she entered a singing contest in Amarillo and won first place. She got a trophy and an allexpense-paid trip to Nashville for a week to enter the National Amateurs' Country Music Competition at the Grand Ole Opry. The winner gets to cut a record album.

Cars and pickups pull into the Dairy Maid parking lot. Some people make no bones about it. They just get in fine to see him. Others try to act like they don't know anything about the buzz. They enter the Dairy Maid, place their orders, and exit with Cokefloats, chocolate-dipped cones, or curlicue fries, then wander to the back of the line. They don't fool me.

The line isn't moving because the big event hasn't started. Some skinny guy wearing a tuxedo, smoking a pipe, is taking the money and giving out green tickets. Cal could stand in line forever to relieve his curiosity. He knows more gossip than any old biddy in Antler because he gathers it down at the cotton gin, where his dad and the other farmers drink coffee.

"I got better things to do than this," I tell Cal. Like eat. My stomach's been growling all the time now because I haven't had a decent meal since Mom left a few days ago. Not that she cooked much lately since she was getting ready for that stupid contest. But I miss the fried catfish and barbecue dinners she brought home from the Bowl-a-Rama Cafe, where she works.

"Oh, come on, Toby," Cal begs. "He'll probably move out tomorrow and we'll never get another chance."

"He's just some fat kid. Heck, Malcolm Clifton probably has him beat hands down." Malcolm's mom claims he's big boned, not fat, but we've seen him pack away six jumbo burgers. I sigh real big like my dad does when he looks at my report card filled with Cs. "Okay," I say. "But I'm only waiting ten more minutes. After that, I'm splitting."

Cal grins that stupid grin with his black tooth showing. He likes to brag that he got his black tooth playing football, but I know the real story. His sister, Kate, socked him good when he scratched up her Carole King album. Cal says he was sick of hearing "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" every stinking day of his life,

Scarlett Stalling walks toward the line, holding her bratty sister Tara's hand. Scarlett, looks cool wearing a bikini top underneath an open white blouse and hip huggers that hit fight below her belly button. With her golden tan and long, silky blond hair, she could do a commercial for Coppertone.

Scarlett doesn't go to the back of the line. She walks over to me. To me. Smiling, flashing that Ultra Brite sex appeal smile and the tiny gap between her two front teeth. Cal grins, giving her the tooth, but I lower my eyelids half-mast and jerk my head back a little as if to say, "Hey."

Then she speaks. "Hey, Toby, would y'all do me a favor?"

"Sure," I squeak, killing my cool act in one split second.

Scarlett flutters her eyelashes, and I suck in my breath. "Take Tara in for me." She passes her little sister's hand like she's handing over a dog's leash. Then she squeezes her fingers into her pocket and pulls out two crumpled dollar bills. I would give anything to be one of those lucky dollar bills tucked into her pocket.

She flips back her blond mane. "I've got to get back home and get ready. Juan's dropping by soon."

The skin on my chest prickles. Mom is right. Scarlett Stalling is a flirt. Mom always told me, "You better stay a spittin' distance from that girl. Her mother had a bad reputation when I went to school, and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

Cal punches my shoulder. "Great going, ladies' man!"

I watch Scarlett's tight jeans sway toward her house so she can get ready for the only Mexican guy in Antler junior High. Juan already shaves. He's a head taller than the rest of the guys (two heads taller than me). That gives him an instant ticket to play first string on our basketball team, even though he's slow footed and a lousy shot. Whenever I see him around town, a number-five-iron golf club swings at his side. I don't plan to ever give him a reason to use it.

"Fatty, fatty, two by four," Tara chimes as she stares at the trailer. "Can't get through the kitchen door."

"Shut up, squirt," I mutter.

Miss Myrtie Mae frowns at me.

Tara yanks on my arm. "Uummmm!" she hollers. "You said shut up. Scarlett! " She rises on her toes as if that makes her louder. "Toby said shut up to me!"

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Reading Group Guide

Nothing ever happens in Toby's small Texas town. Nothing much until this summer that's full of big changes. It's tough for Toby when his mother leaves home to be a country singer. Toby takes it hard when his best friend Cal's older brother goes off to fight in Vietnam. Now their sleepy town is about to get a jolt with the arrival of Zachary Beaver, billed as the fattest boy in the world. Toby is in for a summer unlike any other, a summer sure to change his life.

1. The theme of friendship surrounds every character in this book, but the reader sees Toby's relationships more fully than the relationships of any other character. Examine Toby's friendships and discuss how they affect him. Define friendship; explain what it means to have friends and what character traits you value in your friends. What traits do you possess that make you a friend to others?

2. Toby's dad tells him, "You are a lucky person if you go through life and have one person need you." (p. 195) Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? Give examples from the book and from your own life to support your belief about the validity of this statement.

3. People all over Texas pay two dollars to see Zachary, then make fun of him and ask him rude questions about how much he eats. Have you ever made fun of somebody or called him or her names? How did that make you feel? Has anybody ever made fun of you? How did it make you feel? Why do people make fun of others? What benefit do they derive from this? What is the Golden Rule, and how could it be applied to this situation?

4. Discuss the reasons it is so important to Zachary to be baptized. What are other religious or spiritual rituals? What do they have incommon? Have you or has someone you know had the same feelings that Zachary has about a spiritual ritual?

5. Toby and Cal both suffer loss, but they handle it differently. What factors contribute to the way they deal with their grief? Do they go through the five supposedly normal stages of grief -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance? Have you or has someone you know lost someone important? Was the experience similar and did you share the same emotions? How do you think you would handle what happened to Toby and Cal?

6. Cal and Toby have no way of knowing that coming face to face with Zachary will forever transform their lives. How does their encounter with Zachary help them decide what kind of friends and what kind of people they want to become?

7. Almost every character in the novel has a dream. Toby's mother wants to be a singer; Toby wants Scarlett to be his girlfriend; Cal wants to get out of Antler; and Zachary wants to be baptized. What other dreams do these characters have, and how are Cal and Toby affected when they help Zachary realize two of his dreams? What dreams do you have, and what are you doing to work toward their fulfillment?

8. Through Zachary's appearance in Antler, the author shows several ways people learn to live with and to like strangers. What are some of those ways? Have you ever had an encounter with a stranger that changed your life? How have you dealt with new kids at school or in church? Have you ever been the new kid? How were you treated?

9. Even though they are best friends, Toby and Cal keep secrets from each other. Toby writes a letter to Wayne, Cal's brother in Vietnam, and Cal is furious with Toby when he finds out. Cal knows that Zachary has never really traveled, and when Toby finds out that Cal knew this and didn't tell him, he is angry. Why do the boys keep secrets from each other? Is it ever all right to tell a secret? Does keeping secrets hurt other people?

10. When Toby and Cal first meet Zachary, they think he is rude, selfish, and not worth getting to know. What changes their perspective? Why are they willing to take risks to help Zachary? Does Zachary appreciate what Cal and Toby do for him? Have you ever changed your opinion about a person after getting to know him or her?

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