Cover image for When Zachary Beaver came to town
When Zachary Beaver came to town
Holt, Kimberly Willis.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Holt, 1999.
Physical Description:
227 pages ; 22 cm
During the summer of 1971 in a small Texas town, thirteen-year-old Toby and his best friend Cal meet the star of a sideshow act, 600-pound Zachary, the fattest boy in the world.
Reading Level:
700 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.5 6.0 34759.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.8 12 Quiz: 20519 Guided reading level: Y.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
Y FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Kimberly Willis Holt was born in Pensacola, Florida September 9, 1960, but spent most of her childhood in Forest Hill, Louisiana.

Kimberly is a children's writer, most famous for writing When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, which won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 1999.

She has also won, or been shortlisted, for a number of prestigious awards: Mister and Me, My Louisiana Sky, Dancing in Cadillac Light, Keeper of the Night, Waiting for Gregory, Part of Me, Skinny Brown Dog, Piper Reed Navy Brat, Piper Reed the Great Gypsy, and Piper Reed Gets a Job.

Kimberly lives in Amarillo, Texas.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-9. Nothing much happens in Antler, Texas, a place too small and boring for 13-year-old Toby Wilson's mom, who has left to try and be a country music star. She used to work at the Bowl-a-Rama Cafe, which sits across the road from the Dairy Maid. It's the summer of 1971. Toby's best friend is Cal, whose older brother is away serving in Vietnam. Then a stranger comes to town. He is Zachary Beaver, a 600-pound teenager, "the fattest man in the world," who never leaves his trailer. At first Toby and Cal come to gape at the freak show with everyone else, but when Zachary's manager disappears, the boys slowly get to know Zachary. They fight off the gawkers. With others in the town, they bring him food. Eventually, they help him step outside--not that Zachary is sweet and grateful. He's a mean liar, rude and angry, as well as achingly vulnerable. They all are. As in her first novel, My Louisiana Sky (1998), a Booklist 1999 Editors' Choice, Holt humanizes the outsider without sentimentality. Through Toby's first-person, present-tense narrative, readers get to know the place in all its flashy particulars and its gentleness. Teens will recognize how people can shut themselves into spaces that are too tight and how even a best friend can be a dork, especially when there's jealousy and failure. Some scenes are unforgettable: when Cal's mother gets the news that her son is dead in Vietnam, when Toby tries to apologize to Cal for not being able to face the funeral and their furious quarrel gives way to tears and laughter. In the tradition of many southern writers, Holt reveals the freak in all of us--and the hope of redemption. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Holt (My Louisiana Sky) sets her heartwarming and carefully crafted novel during 1971, but her message of tolerance is one that contemporary readers will appreciate. The moment Zachary Beaver, "the fattest boy in the world," rolls into Antler, Tex., in a trailer, 13-year-old Toby Wilson stands in line with his $2 in hand, waiting for a peek. Toby can't imagine what life is like inside the cramped trailer for the 643-pound boy. When Zachary's guardian suddenly takes off, leaving himÄand the trailerÄin the Dairy Maid parking lot, Toby and his best friend, Cal, become his caretakers of sorts, and eventually, his friend. Through this friendship, Toby learns sympathy and respectÄnot just for the misfit boy but for his own recently estranged parents and a string of other quirky characters who struggle with personal tragedies. While a few of the plot points feel predictable, the well-developed characters, all fantastic and flawed in their own ways, add plenty of spice. There's Toby's mother who aspires to be the next Tammy Wynette; Scarlett, the pouty-lipped teen dream, who hopes to escape Antler by becoming a model; and Miss Myrtie Mae, the town librarian who sacrificed her one chance at love to care for her brother. Picturesque images such as Zachary's baptism in a man-made lake and the novel's culminating scene drive home the point that everyday life is studded with memorable moments. Ages 10-15. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Gr 5-8-When Zachary Beaver comes to town, 13-year-old Toby Wilson, his friend Cal, and other curious townspeople wait in line behind the Dairy Maid in their small Texas town and pay their $2 to see the 643-pound boy. Toby can't help thinking, "What a sorry life Zachary Beaver must have, sitting every day in a cramped trailer while people come by to gawk at him." Toby has troubles of his own: the girl of his dreams is interested in someone else and his mother has gone off to Nashville to pursue her career as a country-and-western singer. Then Zachary's guardian and business partner disappears, leaving the teen alone. Curiosity leads Toby and Cal back to the trailer, and over the course of the summer, the boys learn about themselves and the true meaning of love and friendship. Toby immediately draws readers into his story. His voice is believable, and he exhibits the typical problems of a 13-year-old. Then, of course, there is Zachary Beaver. The characters' reactions to him, ranging from the townspeople who look at him as a sideshow attraction to those who grow curious/concerned about him as a person, are equally well drawn. The setting and Vietnam-era time frame are deftly realized. Holt has crafted a remarkable story about finding yourself by opening up to the people around you. An excellent choice to read alone or aloud.-Margaret Jennings, Orange County Library System, Orlando, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



When Zachary Beaver Came to Town Chapter One 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 librarianseriously, 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 line 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 Coke floats, 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 Antlerbecause 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 right 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 ya'll 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 sticky 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!" But it's too late. Scarlett has already disappeared across the street. She's probably home smearing gloss on those pouty lips while I hold her whiny sister's lollipop fingers, standing next to my black-toothed best friend, waiting to see the fattest boy in the world. WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN. Copyright (c) 1999 by Kimberly Willis Holt. All rights reserved. For information, address Square Fish, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Excerpted from When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.