When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Kimberly Willis Holt

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  • National Book Awards Winner

    National Book Awards Winner

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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.


Read an Excerpt

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town
Chapter OneNothing 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


Praise for When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

"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

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Kimberly Willis Holt

  • 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.
  • Kimberly Willis Holt Shannon Holt
    Kimberly Willis Holt



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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

Kimberly Willis Holt

American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association Notable Children's Books, National Book Awards Winner, Texas Bluebonnet Award, Georgia Children's Book Award (University of GA), Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers Choice Award, Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, New Mexico Land of Enchantment, Indiana Young Hoosier Award, NYPL Books for the Teen Age, Booklist Editors' Choice, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List, Catholic Library Association Award, St. Katherine Drexel Awa, National Book Awards Winner


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