When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

by Kimberly Willis Holt


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National Book Award Winner

The red words painted on the trailer caused quite a buzz around town and before an hour was up, half of Antler was standing in line with two dollars clutched in hand to see the fattest boy in the world.

Toby Wilson is having the toughest summer of his life. It's the summer his mother leaves for good; the summer his best friend's brother returns from Vietnam in a coffin. And the summer that Zachary Beaver, the fattest boy in the world, arrives in their sleepy Texas town. While it's a summer filled with heartache of every kind, it's also a summer of new friendships gained and old friendships renewed. And it's Zachary Beaver who turns the town of Antler upside down and leaves everyone, especially Toby, changed forever.

With understated elegance, Kimberly Willis Holt tells a compelling coming-of-age story about a thirteen-year-old boy struggling to find himself in an imperfect world. At turns passionate and humorous, this extraordinary novel deals sensitively and candidly with obesity, war, and the true power of friendship.

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town is the winner of the 1999 National Book Award for Young People's Literature. This title has Common Core connections.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312632120
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 07/19/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 87,065
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.68(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Kimberly Willis Holt is the author of the many award-winning novels for young adults and children, including The Water Seeker, My Louisiana Sky, and Keeper of the Night. She is also the author of the bestselling Piper Reed series of chapter books and picture books including Waiting for Gregory and Skinny Brown Dog. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town was her third book and won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. She lives in West Texas with her family.

Holt was born in Pensacola, Florida, and lived all over the U.S. and the world—from Paris to Norfolk to Guam to New Orleans. She long dreamed of being a writer, but first worked as a radio news director, marketed a water park, and was an interior decorator, among other jobs. She resides in West Texas with her family.

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!"

From the Audio Cassette (Unabridged) edition.

Copyright 2001 by Kimberly Willis Holt

Reading Group Guide


Before Reading:

Inspect the cover and title of the book. Make predictions about the story and where it might take place.

Read the first line aloud, "Nothing ever happens in Antler, Texas." Look at a map of Texas and locate an area where Antler could be located. Discuss the meaning of the "panhandle" of Texas.

Chapter Three:

Using a Venn diagram, compare/contrast yourself to the main character, Toby. This will give you a better insight into the character of Toby.

Chapter Six:

Cal never writes his brother, Wayne, who is in Vietnam. Write a letter to Wayne for Cal and describe to him what is going on in the town of Antler this summer.

Chapter Seven:

Toby and Cal realize that Zachary Beaver has been left behind by the guy in the Thunderbird. Make a list of ways the two boys can help Zachary, who is a stranger in the town.

Chapter Eight:

Scarlett tells Toby that he is "Great!" This made Toby feel wonderful. Pick one of your friends or someone you don't know very well that may need a little boost in self-esteem. Do something nice today to make that person feel "Great".


Give a compliment Write a note expressing your appreciation for this person being your friend. Ask this person to join you at recess or lunch. Offer to help this person with homework or a class project.

Chapter Thirteen:

Cal and Toby take Zachary on an adventure to the drive-in. Since Zachary doesn't get out much, he is amazed at the sights he sees. Write a descriptive paragraph of what Zachary sees on the way to the drive-in. This can be illustrated also.

Chapter Sixteen:

In this chapter we find out that Zachary hasn't actually visited all the places he talks about. He has visited these places through books. Have a collection of travel brochures available for the students. Let them "travel" to different countries and cities by reading the brochures. After their visit, have the students write and illustrate a postcard to someone back home telling them all about the wonderful place they visited. (Check with a local travel agent for travel brochures.)

Chapter Seventeen:

After Wayne's death Toby doesn't know what to say to his best friend, Cal. Maybe it would be easier to write down his thoughts. Write a letter to Cal, as if you are Toby, expressing your heartfelt sorrow about Wayne's death. You may have lost a loved one, and can relate to the feelings that Toby is having at this time.

Chapter Eighteen:

In this chapter we find out that Juan comes from the "Mexican" part of town which seems to be a poor section. Juan is embarrassed to attend a function with Scarlett because he doesn't have the proper attire. This would be a wonderful opportunity to discuss with the class about people who are less fortunate then they are. Most students have clothing at home that they have outgrown. Have the students collect unwanted clothing to share with those that are less fortunate in the neighborhood, the community, or even at the school.

Culmination Activity #1:

The Ladybug Waltz is an important event in Antler, Texas. Select some classical music, preferably Mozart, to listen to while drawing your version of what the Ladybug Waltz looked like. On a large sheet of white paper, draw the cotton field with all the Antler folks standing in the middle of it with paper bags full of ladybugs. Don't forget that Zachary Beaver was there also to experience this wonderful adventure.

Culmination Activity #2:

Miss Myrtie Mae, the photographer, is very proud of the photos she has taken this summer. Ferris hangs them on the wall of the cafe for all to see. Your students can make a class photo album of their own. On 5x6 index card, have the students illustrate their favorite part of the book. Glue the "photos" on construction paper and bind them together for a class photo album. What a great way to remember all that happened in the town of Antler, Texas that summer of '71!


Chapter Two:

Toby and Cal see Zachary Beaver for the first time. What if you were Zachary? How would you feel having people pay money to gawk at you?

Chapter Three:

Toby's mom is away for awhile and the men have to do all the cooking and household chores. Do you think it is important for boys and men to know how to do "women's work"? Explain.

Chapter Four:

Toby is an only child and Cal has brothers and sisters. Which type of family would you prefer to live in and why?

Chapter Seven:

In this chapter Zachary has a chance to "rat" on Cal and Toby for breaking the window in his trailer. Why do you think Zachary kept quiet and didn't say anything to the sheriff?

Chapter Eight:

Toby's mom didn't win the singing contest in Nashville and she has decided not to come home for awhile. How would you feel if your mother did something like this?

Chapter Eighteen:

Scarlet is rather disgusted with Juan because he doesn't seem to know how to treat a girl. Write some tips for Juan on how to act around girls and some of the nice things a girl would like for a young man to do.

Chapter Nineteen:

In this chapter Toby's dad tells him, "You are a lucky person if you go through life and have one person need you." He was referring to Cal needing Toby to help him get through losing his brother, Wayne. Do you have a person in your life that needs you? Explain.

Chapter Twenty:

Zachary Beaver has never had the opportunity to be baptized. Why do you think it is important to him that he fulfills this goal?

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 98 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this book. We read this book in school. The only complaint i have is that it is kindof rude and possibly affensive to those who are above the average wieght. I dont suggust you buy it if you planned on reading this to younger kids that yoi are trying to teach not to steriotype. If you want to have a laugh though i do suggest it. The book is way better than the movie :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great when you want an easy fast clean good read. A tween classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great. I read it with my class and everyone loved it. I recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'When Zachary Beaver Came to Town' is truly one of the best books I've ever read. It's the kind of book that really doesn't seem to be about much, but yet it really is about many things. No matter what part of the book I was reading, it kept me interested. I always wanted to find out what happened next. I usually don't like books like these but there was something different about this book. It was very easy to feel like I was part of the story. I can't pinpoint what it was about the author's writing that was so good, it just was. I find it hard to read anything else because I know nothing will be as good as this book. I have read many books with more adventure in them than you can imagine. However, this book was better. Maybe it was because something like this is easier to relate to because it actually can happen. It is sad, happy, funny, and everything else. I highly recommend this book. It is better than words can describe.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an AWSOME book. My kind of book. I met the author and she is nice. Realy nice
book_worm91 More than 1 year ago
When Zachary Beaver came to town was a good book to read. It wasn't the best book ever. It had a great story and a good message. I finish it in three days. overall I recommened this book to everyone.
artlibby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nothing ever happens in the small rural town of Antler, Texas, until one day the monotony comes to a screeching halt. Zachary Beaver, the fattest boy in the world, rings in a summer of change for Toby WIlson with his arrival into town. Toby and his best friend Cal struggle to make sense of a changing world and their status in it as they tip toe into an unexpected friendship with the sideshow aspiring Zachary. Both Toby and Cal deal with changing family dynamics and the reality of wartime America. The story takes places in a small rural town where a new face is recognized by all and news spreads within hours. The culture of this small town is as much a part of the story as the developing friendship between the three boys. The honest voices of Toby and Cal set the tone for this coming of age novel, and would make a great read for young men between the ages of 11 and 17.
gelbeente on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great coming-of-age book. Made me laugh, made me cry.
mdemock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is rather strange as it is about the arrival and exploitation of a 600 pound boy to a small town. It is an interesting, coming of age story of small town kids.
buggysmom More than 1 year ago
My Disclaimer: I was loaned a copy of this book by Mr. Easley. I am voluntarily providing an honest review in which all opinions are fully my own. I am not being compensated in any way. ~ Judi E. Easley for Blue Cat Review My Review: ✰✰✰✰✰ The writing in this middle-grade book is simply wonderful. I wish Ms. Holt wrote for adults. The pictures she creates with her words are beautiful. This is what she wrote about the evening when they released the ladybugs just before sunset. “it’s as if someone has dumped rubies from heaven. Soon they will land on the plants in search of bollworm eggs. But right now they are magic–red ribbons flying over our heads, weaving against the pink sky, dancing up there with Mozart…One group of ladybugs soars high into the sky, then suddenly dips low like a flock of birds flying perfect rhythm.” If that doesn’t paint a picture in your mind, nothing will. The characters were well-done, too. Cal seems to be such a little stinker, when in fact he is the one who instigates some really nice things. He’s the idea man behind Toby’s action. For instance, he’s the one who suggests going to the drive-in. He’s also able to keep a secret, especially when it’s not anything anyone else needs to know. Toby. Poor Toby is having a really tough summer. His mother has supposedly gone off to a singing contest, but he knows the truth deep inside. He knows she’s not coming back and he’s really angry with her. So he stops reading her letters and won’t speak with her on the phone. And he’s there when the Army comes to Cal’s family to tell them that Wayne won’t be coming home from Vietnam. And he had so looked up to Wayne and all the thoughtful things he had done. He had been a real role model for people all over town. And when he finally gets a chance with Scarlett, she tells him she likes him because he’s the nicest boy in town, but she doesn’t like him that way. Then he and Cal have to remake their friendship and he learns that true friendship can’t really be broken. It’s a summer for taking steps away from childhood. For learning some hard truths. For finding out there are some things you can always count on. For learning what is worth the effort in life. This is a middle-grade book, but it still has things to say to an adult. It would be a great book to share with a child in that middle-grade age and share its messages. Let’s see what Mr. Easley’s class has to say about the book. They were asked to answer these questions for me. What was your favorite incident in the book and why? Who was your favorite character in the book and why? What would you rate this book? One student said: ” My favorite character is Cal because somehow I can relate with him. I rate this book because it was a book where kids can relate to similar problems and how kids that are 12 have to solve these problems. My least favorite character is Tara because she is an annoying sister like my sister. Overall score is 100%” Another student had this to say, “My favorite part was at the end of the book because it was a satisfying ending to the book. I’d rate it a 5/5 since there is so much complex storytelling that I haven’t seen before.” One of the girls said ” My favorite character is Kate because she’s always doing the right thing. My favorite scene is when the military police officer people come and Mrs. McKnight already knows what they’re gonna tell her and she gets all sad.” Another student had this to say about that same scene. “My favorite part in
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Im Zach but im not nearly as as big as Zach Beaver. I sort of like this book. Im in 6th grade.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book. It was happy and sometimes heart throbing.
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I read this book in 4th grade. It was unique. Loved this book. It is awesome and i would recomned it to anyone looking fira nice read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fat with details!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am 12 and im reading this book it is sad when wayn dies and when tobys mother leaves for good over all i would highly recommend this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is the movie on dvd or blu ray
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To any of you who have seen the movie........the book is way better.