Or: Why Louis Sachar’s Holes Remains a Favorite Among Elementary Students
By Amara Sardelli, AmeriCorps member serving on the Trustey Family team with Grew Elementary School
Upon starting my service year at Grew Elementary School, I was initially surprised to find that the children’s novel Holes, by Louis Sachar, continues to be a favorite among our 3rd-5th graders. Holes was initially published in 1998, and, as a 3rd-grade student, I still vividly remember my teacher reading the novel aloud to my class. As my teacher read page after page, I sat in rapt attention, hanging on to every word that the novel had to offer. So maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that Holes continues to be a favorite among older elementary school students as well. But what exactly is it about the novel that gives it such lasting significance?
For those who haven’t read the novel, Holes tells the tale of 14-year-old Stanley Yelnats, an unlucky boy who is charged with a crime he did not commit and, as a result, is sent to a juvenile disciplinary facility in the middle of the desert called Camp Green Lake. While at Camp Green Lake, Stanley meets a host of unique boys and some cruel camp counselors. At Camp Green Lake, the boys must spend all day digging holes in the desert, because as the warden claims, it builds their character. After undergoing some hardships, Stanley soon uncovers the secret behind Camp Green Lake and his family history as well.
Holes tells Stanley’s tale through a lens that is simultaneously funny and dark. Stanley’s unfortunate situation, along with the bullying that many of the boys endure by counselors, makes the start of the novel somewhat bleak. Zero, another boy at the camp, is constantly picked on by Mr. Pendanski, one of the counselors, for supposedly being stupid. However, Zero finally stands up to Mr. Pendanski, and is able to leave the camp to ensure a better fate for himself. Stanley ends up joining him, and the adventure that they embark on in the face of an unjust authority, is an experience that 3rd-5th grade students can really appreciate, being at an age where asserting their voice is important. Moreover, this funny, yet emotionally challenging, type of storytelling adds to the appeal, as it is entertaining and witty while allowing students to feel mature at an age where they are beginning to feel the pull towards adolescence.
I think what I most appreciated about Holes is that it deals with somewhat tough subjects, while managing to remain funny the entire time, and is not a novel that coddles young learners. It gives them just the right amount of grittiness while remaining funny and even light at times. Many children’s books romanticize the idea of being a child or teenager by creating a fictional world where everything is lighthearted and magical. Although these types of stories serve a purpose, they too often dominate the field of children’s literature. Holes does not romanticize young adulthood, but instead highlights its uneasiness, awkwardness, and vulnerability through the character of Stanley Yelnats and his unconventional campmates. Students who feel unlucky, alone, or bullied, will be able to relate to this coming of age tale on many levels and perhaps hope that their story will end as positively as Stanley’s does.