Kimberly Willis Holt is the author of the Piper Reed series, including Piper Reed, Navy Brat, Piper Reed, Clubhouse Queen, and Piper Reed, Rodeo Star. She has written many award-winning novels, including The Water Seeker and My Louisiana Sky, as well as the picture books Waiting for Gregory and Skinny Brown Dog. A former Navy brat herself, 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. Holt 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. A few years after she started writing, her third book, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature. She resides in West Texas with her family.
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 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 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 sa
"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." —The Horn Book, starred review
“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 Holt’s When Zachary Beaver Came to Town will resonate with readers.” —USA Today
“Holt may not take her readers on wild flights of fantasy, but her quiet novel offers a slice of life that’s hard to resist.” —The New York Times Book Review
“As in her first novel, My Louisiana Sky, Holt humanizes the outsider without sentimentality. . . . Holt reveals the freak in all of us, and the power of redemption.” —Booklist, starred review
“Well-developed characters, all fantastic and flawed in their own ways, add plenty of spice.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Holt reinvents the coming-of-age story, breathing life into a quirky cast of characters. . . . 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.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Holt deftly fleshes out her characters and expands their worldview beyond the borders of their small town.”—School Library Journal
“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, who displays a finely tuned sense of place and time. A rich and satisfying read.” —KLIATT
An ALA Notable Children’s Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
National Book Award Winner
Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library
Booklist Editors’ Choice
Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
An American Bookseller “Pick of the List”
Arizona Young Reader Selection Nominee
Connecticut’s Nutmeg Award Nominee
Georgia Children’s Book Award Nominee
Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award Finalist
Indiana Young Hoosier Award
Iowa Teen Book Award Nominee
Kansas Heartland Award for Excellence in YA Literature Finalist
Maine Student Book Award Nominee
Maryland’s Black-eyed Susan Award Nominee
Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award Finalist
Michigan Reader’s Choice Award Winner
Pennsylvania Young Readers Choice Awards Master List
New Mexico Land of Enchantment Book Award YA Master List
Tennessee Volunteer State Award Master List
Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List
Vermont’s Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Nominee