MAY 3:

  • Happy birthday Pete Seeger (Abiyoyo), Karen Heywood (The Saddlebag Hero), Mavis Jukes (Blackberries in the Dark), and Joe Murray (Who Asked the Moon to Dinner?).
  • It’s the birth date of Suekichi Akaba (1910-1990), Suho’s White Horse: A Mongolian Legend; John Ney (1923–2010), Ox: The Story of a Kid at the Top.
  • Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone with the Wind wins Pulitzer Prize in 1937. Read Gone by Michael Grant and The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins.
  • In 1960, the Anne Frank House opened in Amsterdam. Read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex: A Collection of Her Short Stories, Fables, and Lesser-Known Writings.

For Get Caught Reading Month I want to talk about a book published in 1998 destined to become a classic. Whenever I ask audiences which book of the last fifteen years seems most poised for classic status, one title leads all the rest, Louis Sachar’s Holes. A rare winner of the Triple Crown in prizes (National Book Award, Newbery Medal, Boston Globe–Horn Book Award), Holes has gained a devoted readership among the ten through fourteen crowd. After all, it is hard to resist a book with a character called Armpit.

However, Holes goes well beyond surface appeal and satisfies readers on a very deep level. Louis Sachar began his career as a lawyer but went on to create a body of appealing, light, and funny middle-grade novels, with titles such as Sideways Stories from Wayside School and There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom. Holes, however, broke the mold of his earlier work: funny, but also weighty, profound, and meticulously crafted, it established Sachar as one of the most important children’s book writers of the twentieth century.

For his masterpiece, Sachar drew inspiration from something he knew very well first hand: hot Texas summers. He has said, “Anyone who has ever tried to do yard work in Texas in July can easily imagine Hell to be a place where you are required to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet across day after day under the brutal Texas sun.” In Holes the protagonist Stanley Yelnats—whose name is a palindrome—get sentenced to a boot camp for juvenile delinquents. At Camp Green Lake, a misnomer because nothing actually grows there and no lake exists, he and his fellow inmates have to dig a five-foot-square hole each day while supervised by a terrible warden who has venom-tipped finger nails. Buried treasure, yellow-spotted lizards¸ and Kissin’ Kate Barlow, an outlaw, all add to the flavor of this adventure, survival novel, and tall tale.

At first many critics seemed surprised that such a sophisticated novel could come from the pen of someone known for lighthearted titles. But Sachar’s editor, Frances Foster, was not surprised when she read the manuscript. She had always known that Sachar had a great book in him and realized, while working on Holes, that he had written such a book. The manuscript went through at least five complete revisions, with both author and editor making sure all the details of this complex plot fit together. The attention to detail and the author and editor’s commitment to making the book as perfect as possible made a difference with Holes. It would always have been a good book, but it became a great one. Fortunately, for fans of the book, Sachar himself worked on the screenplay for a highly successful movie that remains true to the original novel.

Sachar has summed up the moral or lesson of Holes quite simply, “Reading is fun.” There can be no better slogan to celebrate Get Caught Reading Month than that one.

Here’s a passage from Holes:

A lot of people don’t believe in curses.

A lot of people don’t believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn’t make a difference whether you believe in it or not.

Actually, it is kind of odd that scientists named the lizard after its yellow spots. Each lizard has exactly eleven yellow spots, but the spots are hard to see on its yellow-green body.

The lizard is from six to ten inches long and has red eyes. In truth, its eyes are yellow, and it is the skin around the eyes which is red, but everyone always speaks of its red eyes. It also has black teeth and a milky white tongue.

Looking at one, you would have thought that it should have been named a “red-eyed” lizard, or a “black-toothed” lizard, or perhaps a “white-tongued” lizard.

If you’ve ever been close enough to see the yellow spots, you are probably dead.


Originally posted May 3, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Award Winning, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Humor, National Book Award, Newbery, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Holes


  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you for featuring Sachar today. His books are gateways to reading for many boys; all of his titles are popular in our library.

    Happy Tuesday, Anita!

  2. Anita, I’m so happy to read such a glowing review of Holes!

    Although I never read the book (I love to share my initial enthusiasm about a book with my kids during our read alouds), I heard so much praise that I simply couldn’t resist adding it to our home collection a couple of months ago
    Now we have both Holes and Sideways Stories from the Wayside School!

    After reading today’s post I learned about There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom…

    Moral of the story: There is always something new to learn in the Children’s Book A Day Almanac – for everybody!

    Read Aloud Dad

  3. Anita says:

    Read Aloud Dad: Thanks for this post and your many others. You always make my day. Anita

  4. Jessica says:

    I adore this book! It’s pretty much perfect. How could you not love a character named Stanley Yelnats?

  5. Audrey says:

    Wow. Chris Barton one day and Louis Sachar the next!

    I really love the way you’re mixing in the old titles with the new–reminding us what we loved about some older books, or sometimes reminding us of the ones we missed, while also shining a light on the authors who may one day be this generation’s Louis Sachar. Thank you.

  6. Beth says:

    I love Holes,and I think there is more resonance in _Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom_ than you’d think.

    When I picked _Holes_ as our audiobook for a long car trip, I know my dad was a bit dubious. But it was the perfect book that held everyone’s attention, from the kids to the grandparents.

  7. Anita says:

    Audrey: Thank you for understanding what I am trying to do with the Almanac –to remind everyone of our classics. But also to lend support to contemporary writers and artists, who also want to create great books.

  8. Darsa says:

    The year I taught fifth grade, both the SORCERER’S STONE and HOLES were released. We passed SS around like mad; there were a few boys (it was an all-boys school), though, that didn’t identify themselves as “readers” and were intimidated by the size of SS. (Impressively long at the time… not so much now. : ) ) I loved that I could hand these boys HOLES. Amazing story, unputdownable, and a “doable” size. After such a positive, confidence-building, JOYFUL reading experience with HOLES, each of those “non-readers” went on to read SORCERER’S STONE, as well. CHAMBER OF SECRETS came out the last week of school… it is safe to safe there wasn’t a “non-reader” left in the class at that point.

    HOLES will always be my go-to “So you think you aren’t a reader? Try this.” recommendation.

  9. Anita says:

    Darsa: Thank you so much for this story — a great one. Yes 1998 was a very good year for children and books.

  10. Linda C. says:

    I’m not the “audience/market” for which Holes was written(I’m a 67 year old female), but it’s one of my favorite books. It’s one of those rare books that has the reader laughing out loud on one page, and reading (and re-reading) the next page. It’s a winner.

  11. Helen Frost says:

    I love that you recognize the hand of Frances Foster in this book. What a team the two of them made in the full and masterful realization of this story.

  12. Anita says:

    Helen: When it comes to Frances Foster, an editor’s editor, I could go on and on singing her praises. As can all of the those authors and illustrators who have been fortunate enough to have their creative work in
    her care.

  13. Jamie Tan says:

    I’ve been attempting to chip away at the mountainous pile of children’s classics I have not yet read, and a week ago I picked up Holes and fell in love with it. The desert descriptions were spot on, but my favorite part was how neatly everything fit together. The book didn’t feel forced at all, and the disparate parts fell neatly, piece by piece, into place.

    I haven’t yet seen the movie, but now that I know Louis Sachar had a hand in its making, I’m definitely going to put it in my queue.

  14. Absolutely one of the most perfect books ever written, period. I always feel mildly hopeless as a writer after I read it, like “I will NEVER, EVER be able to write something THAT PERFECT no matter how good I get!” But that doesn’t keep me from reading and rereading it. IT IS JUST THAT BRILLIANT.

  15. Autumn says:

    I absolutely love Holes! I’ve read it a few times now and it never gets old. I had no idea that Sachar worked on the screenplay. No wonder it was so good!

  16. Sam L. says:

    I love this book. I read when it came out, and I thought I understood everything. Then, I reread the book and loved discovering things that I didn’t catch the first time around. I love that the subplot and the main plot work so well together to tell two stories as one.

  17. G.Perry says:

    Well, I grew up just north of where this book bases its location. It was hot and brutal there as well.

    I also grew up in a place and circumstance, not too dissimilar to the one this book describes.

    We had hour “Holes” to dig as well, and I’m grateful that Louis wrote this book. It’s a lovely book. A fun book as well, and triggered some significant life memories.

    To bring some too-real life to this thing, an acquaintance of mine wrote A Hole in the World. An American Boyhood. I was extraordinarily lucky to have meet him at all, and it was only because the editor of the University Press of Kansas found out that Richard and I had near identical backgrounds, and told us to talk to each other. Otherwise, I doubt I would have ever known such a man. A man who dug “Holes” as I did.

    The book I mentioned was also written by a man that grew up about 150 miles north of me, at about the same time, and in circumstances for both of us.,that would realistically fit in today’s book. We became friends in a special way.

    Richard won a Pulitzer. I’m still trying turn loose of my own writing.

    So, there are, “Holes” being dug out in the real world, even as I type, and how fortunate for us that Louis and Richard, and Anita, are out there walking among us as. Guardians of a kind, I think, even if they don’t know it.

    Is children’s literature a guardian? I think it is.

    It just amazes me daily, what this site and the books it represents have, and are doing for me. I never dreamed I would get shot through with such light as a grown person. Nebulous wings of light at that, just swept across me from all directions, over and over. Get up laughing, and get hit all over again. Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, BAM!

    Discovering children’s books as an adult is a happening so amazing, I can hardly speak it. Maybe there’s part of the brain that never gets to sing when you don’t have these books as a child, Then,the brain starts a never before heard song, when you get them later?

    I gotta stop.

  18. Diane says:

    Okay, I’ve thought about it, but now I must buy this book! Something about the quality of these comments tells me I’ve been missing an important book.

  19. Anita says:

    Diane: Yes, this is a must know and read. I envy you being able to pick it up for the first time.

  20. Anita says:

    Gordon: Thank you for your amazing comments. You always give me a new way to look at a book.

  21. Andrena says:

    I never saw the film for this – but I was completely surprised by this book’s affect on my. I love the story or Stanley Yelnats – and I can’t even explain why. I was just taken by this story of children who have essentially been abandoned and overcome with a gradual selflessness toward one another.

  22. Amy Soma says:

    So interesting that Darsa comments about 1998. 1998 is the year my twin sons were born and my husband, not a professional educator or librarian, but an avid reader nonetheless, came home with Holes and The Sorcerer’s Stone telling me that we must read these books because they were all the rage and we should be up on what our children will want to read. It was a full 10 years before the kids read The Sorcerer’s Stone and I read Holes to them at bedtime. Who were we kidding? We didn’t read these for our children, we read them for ourselves! Holes is perfectly crafted for children and adults alike!

  23. As I sit here, trying to muster up enough creativity energy to write my next revision, I’m relieved to see that Sachar didn’t get his novel perfect on the first try. I’m glad you shared the fact that it took Sachar and his editor five full revisions. Writing can be so frustrating, and it’s always comforting, encouraging, and enlightening to hear about the writing journeys of other authors, especially one of my favorites.
    I have to agree that if I was to come up with a list of children’s books written in the past twenty years destined to become classics, Holes would be at the top of that list. Besides having some fantastic characters (Zero is my favorite) and a great plot, Holes is such a great example of an incredibly well crafted book. Trying to map out his plots and subplots is dizzying, and it’s a wonder how they made it such a cohesive book. It’s a book I’ve read many times, with people of all ages, and one I will continue to recommend.
    I recently watched the movie for the first time. Like many readers, I’m often hesitant to watch a film adaptation of a book I love, but I have to say that I was completely impressed with Holes the movie. I watched it without knowing Sachar had written the screenplay, and when his name scrolled down the credits I sat right up. Why don’t more movie producers get the authors to write the script? Who else can keep the story true. More movie producers need to realize that readers don’t only fall in love with characters, they fall in love with the story too. Readers want to see a movie that enhances their reading experience, not a flat story with characters that vaguely resemble the originals (ahem… Where the Wild Things Are).

  24. Meagan Maher says:

    I read this book for a class last semester and was totally taken in by Stanley Yelnats’ story. I loved how all the stories, past and present, interweaved and crossed to have one great story emerge. Mr. Sachar is the only author who I’ve seen perfect flashbacks.

    Great book!!

  25. Ashley Maher says:

    This is such a perfectly crafted book. I watched the movie first, which I thought was quite good, but the book is so much better. You really get a feel for the characters and their inner conflicts.
    A great classic!

  26. Fran in Texas says:

    Years ago I first loved _There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom_ and then came _Holes_. What else could I do but fall in love with it, too?

    Now, after reading this page (and every comment, too, of course!), I know my next movie is going to be _Holes_ . Thanks for the tip!

    Final thought: our 2011 Texas record-breaking summer heat certainly brought to mind today’s book. =)

  27. G. Perry says:

    What I said last year, still goes.

    A great and good work for the child, and the adult.

  28. Erika says:

    My daughter, who used to shy away from books about boys (she’s firmly a Betsy-Tacy, Penderwicks kind of reader), LOVES this book. And the movie. When I read it, I wondered how he made all the details come together so artfully. Talent, craft, and a great editor, apparently!

  29. McCourt says:

    This is one of my absolute, all-time favorites. Such masterful stories within stories woven together beautifully. And I enjoyed the movie as well!

  30. Beverly Komoda says:

    Accolades and accolades for the movie as well! Mr. Sachar worked on it and it is a gem. Perfect casting,

  31. S.Matt Read says:

    So many comments! It’s great to see how many fans there are of this book. I read this book first to myself, then outloud to my girlfriend, so many years ago. Good stuff.

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