Review / When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

zachbeaverBook: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (1999)
Author: Kimberly Willis Holt
Genre: MG, Historical (1970s)
Companion Book: Ambassador of Nowhere Texas

Opening lines from the book …
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.


1) The main character, Toby, is quite likable. He’s definitely struggling with his life. His mom has left to try to make it big in Nashville, and Toby doesn’t know quite what to make of it. He tells lies (about the Grand Ole Opry burning down … it was just a little fire!) to explain her continued absence. I really liked Toby’s dad!

2) And then there’s his best friend, Cal. He’s not always the kindest person in Antler, but even Cal has his good points. I love how the two friends (Toby and Cal) grow as people, especially as they come into contact with Zachary Beaver.

3) Which does bring me to Zachary Beaver. (Such a great name, by the way!) In the book, Zachary Beaver is billed as “the fattest kid in the world.” When he comes to town, people stand in line and pay money to see him as they would a gimmick or a sideshow. That was a reality for many sideshow acts that used to travel around. What makes this book interesting is how Toby and Cal (oddly enough for Cal!) eventually get to know Zachary as a real person. And that journey is what I found fascinating. And also, any topic that encourages us to discuss differences and empathy … Yeah, I think that’s important.

4) I also loved that the town is almost its own character, which is fun. Especially as you get to know the different quirky townspeople in this “nowhere” place. And then I loved how those quirky townspeople come together to help Zachary Beaver. There’s Cal’s sister (who just got her driver’s license) for one. And the guy who owns the diner.

5) I thought the connection to Vietnam was handled in a good way. We get this part of the story through letters from Cal’s older brother, Wayne. And I like how Wayne eventually makes a connection to Scarlett and her boyfriend.


1) I really had trouble liking the mom. Maybe this was because she was “off-screen” for the whole book. But then again, so was Wayne. But I really liked Wayne and getting to know him through his letters. I suspect with regards to the mom, it has something to do with going off to find yourself and leaving your family behind. I don’t really like that in people, and I have a hard time liking characters like that.


I picked up this book because of the “sequel” Ambassador of Nowhere Texas. It was fun to see the adults from that book as kids in this one. If you are going to read the second book, I would recommend reading this one first!



Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday


11 thoughts on “Review / When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

  1. I read Zachary Beaver when it was first published. My readers in the school library weren’t interested. We MG novel lovers can relate to the characters. After your review, I am drawn to the sequel in Nowhere, TX.
    Thanks for your interesting review!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh boy, have I aged. I was just finishing my senior year in college when this book is set — I don’t think of that time as historical fiction and a period piece! It was just yesterday! But I’d probably enjoy the book. Didn’t know they still freak shows in the 70s. Sounds like an excellent read! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Yes, I do find it hard to think of the time period I’ve lived through as historical fiction sometimes! In the book, the author’s note says that she saw something like this when she was a kid in the 1970s, so I guess these sideshows still existed!


  3. Regarding historical fiction: when I started teaching as a school librarian, or media specialist, we taught HF as time of 1963 or before. Think of young readers who didn’t know about civil rights protests and other issues of that era. We “older” readers remember where we were on November 22, 1963 and on 9/11/01, but our young readers only think about these times as “stories” while we were “present.”


  4. I have a feeling I read this book a long time ago. I think I will put it on my list and try to reread it. It seems to me I really liked it. Getting old really sucks. My memory sure isn’t what it used to be. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention.


  5. This sounds like such a great read! I’ve heard about some other books by Holt, and the storyline here sounds very compelling—Zachary Beaver’s story sounds deeply painful and alarming but definitely worth hearing. I do agree, the mother seems irritating—I can think of so many MG books with that same trope, and it’s gotten old, honestly (although this book is older, so maybe it was original then!). For a few reasons, reading this review reminded me of A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin (which I actually want to re-read but have ZERO time to). Thanks so much for the great review!


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