Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town – Kimberly Willis Holt

When Zachary Beaver Came to Town

©1999  Dell Yearling, New York

Sometimes you read a book and want to see the movie based on it. Sometimes you see the movie first. That’s what happened to me just a few weeks ago. The family and I were watching a really good family film based on Kimberly Willis Holt’s award-winning book. In this kind of scenario, I usually say that the book is better than the movie (when approaching Ernest Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, forget about Cicely Tyson’s career mistake and read the book) with an occasional hiccup where the movie outshines the book tremendously (What the Deaf Man Heard was much better on the screen than its counterpart, Whatthe Deaf Mute Heard). But sometimes, just sometimes, you encounter something that is worth your while in either format because one’s not better than the other – they’re just . . . different.

When Zachary Beaver Came to TownConsider the nice little film released in 2006 and starring Jonathan Lipnicky (et al). Here we have a superb family film about small-town Texas, and all the quirks that endear it to us—regardless of where we really live. It earned a PG rating for some mild language, but over all you can sit down with even your younger children and a bowl of popcorn and laugh/cry your way right along with the characters. The acting is pretty good. The characters are developed to a point of recognition from the moment they hit the screen. The story flows with most of the events from the book with a few major variations that don’t really damage the plot itself. Some anomalies that hit you over the head are the military involvement of the best friend’s brother, which misses the book’s 1970s setting, and the use of email where Holt’s characters wrote letters. I’d recommend the movie for all ages of film-watchers.

On the other hand, the book is recommended for the thirteen and older group. My ten-year-old daughter is an excellent reader and would sprint through this book like it was water. She’s even quick enough to catch all the nuances of what’s going on in the book. But some of the themes addressed by the book, well, I’m not ready for her to have to tackle them. Even so, this is a well-written, smooth reading book that the YA audience and adult readers alike would enjoy.

Antler, Texas is a widespot in the road where nothing ever really happens. Nothing until Zachary Beaver, the “World’s Fattest Boy”, shows up that is. Follow along with the adventures of Toby and Cal as they learn about love, hate, anger, war, and death, all in the matter of a couple hundred pages. If the development of the characters in this book has any fault it is that the support characters are rather flat and the narrator is too nice—but we’ve all been in his shoes.

Check this book out of you local library, or buy it for your shelf, or find it in e-form—you will want to read this book. You’ll see why it’s on virtually everybody’s reading list. Watch the movie, too. It’s great family fare. Just remember, even with their similarities, they are (almost) entirely different enjoyments. (In other words, if you’re one of those who waits for them movie to watch instead of reading the book—read the book; and if you’re a purist who says you only read the book and don’t like movies based on books—watch the movie. In either case, you’ll be glad you did.) Book and movie—neither is to be missed. Five out of five reading glasses (or popcorn bowls) all around.

—Benjamin Potter July 24, 2012

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