On the Same Page

Reader’s Guide

Holes

Chapters

Louis Sacher

Hillside Elementary School

Holes

Adaptations

Yellow-Spotted Lizards

Other Works

Questions for Discussion

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Portrait of author Louis Sachar.Louis Sacher

(March 20, 1954)

 

Louis Sachar was the second of two sons born to Robert J Sachar and Ruth Raybin Sachar on March 20, 1954. He and his older brother, Andy, were close, and it was Andy who encouraged Louis’s writing.

The Sachar family was devoutly Jewish and Louis attended Hebrew school where his family lived in East Meadow, New York.

When he was nine, the family moved to Tustin, California.

After high school, he attended Antioch College, a private liberal arts college in Ohio. He left after one semester when his father unexpectedly died and returned to Tustin to be with his mother.

University of California at Berkeley building with a clocktower.He later attended the University of California at Berkeley where he majored in economics. While there, he noticed a little girl handing out flyers and took one. The flyer asked for volunteers at a local elementary school and noted that the position would give three college credits.

“I thought it over and decided it was a pretty good deal. College credits, no homework, no term papers, no test, all I had to do was help out in a second/third grade class at Hillside Elementary School. Besides helping out in a classroom, I also became the noontime supervisor, or “Louis, the Yard Teacher” as I was known to the kids. It became my favorite college class, and a life changing experience.”

Sachar finished his economics degree in 1976 and began writing Sideways Stories from the Wayside School which was published in 1978. Although he used many of the names of the children at Hillside Elementary, he emphatically states that none of the stories actually happened.

“My personal experiences are kind of boring. I have to make up what I put in my books.”
 

University of California Hastings College of Law showing students walking and relaxing.Sideways Stories didn’t attract much attention initially, so Sachar entered UC’s Hastings College of Law, graduating in 1980. He worked as a lawyer but continued to write part time until 1989 when his books were selling well enough to justify him becoming a full-time author.

During his half lawyer – half writer phase, Louis married Carla Askew, an elementary school counselor. They had a daughter, Sherre, in 1987. Sachar has said that his wife was the inspiration for the counselor in There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom and Stanley’s lawyer in Holes.Louis Sachar with his wife, Carla Askew, and their daughter, Sherre. They are sitting in front of a fireplace hung with Christmas stockings.

Hillside Elementary School


Louis Sachar claims that he would never have begun writing children’s books without the inspiration from his time and experiences at Hillside Elementary. The Buena Vista Way entrance to the Hillside Elementary School.The Hillside School is a former elementary school in the Berkeley foothills listed on the U. S. National Register of Historic Places. It first opened in 1901, but was destroyed the 1923 Berkeley fire. The current structure was completed in 1925 and designed by prominent architect Walter H. Ratliff in the Tudor Revival style.

A seismic retrofit was done in the 1930s and an additional wing added in in 1964.

 

An aerial view of the Hillside Elementary School showing a somewhat meandering layout with a peaked roof and gables surrounded by pine trees.In the late 1960s, the school was limited to Kindergarten through third grade, and would have been such when Louis Sachar did his volunteer work there.

By 1983, because of declining school age population in the area and because it was noted that the structure was sitting of the Hayward Fault, the school was closed. During the next years, the space was leased by the Berkeley Montessori School and the Berkeley Chess School.

Sun streaming in through the auditorium windows at the Hillside Elementary School.In 2012, the school district sold the building to the German International School of Silicon Valley which did significant restoration work. Six years later, the German school sold Hillside to a Finnish businessman who intended to use it as artists’ studios.

Residents of the area have also used Hillside’s playground, where Louis the yard teacher reigned, as a neighborhood park with clear pedestrian parkways leading to it. When the rumors of sale began, residents proposed a special assessment district to purchase that portion of the site.

Holes


Madame Zeroni sits on the porch.Louis Sachar’s ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­1998 novel Holes is much darker than any of Sachar’s other books. The tale is rich with historical sub-plots that give depth and meaning to the present-day story. The tales of Stanley and Hector’s ancestors help to explain their current predicaments and the contemporary actions resolve the problems of the past.

In an interview with Todd Miller, Sachar gave some insights into his creation of the book.

What inspired Holes?

I moved to Texas in 1991 from San Francisco. The summers in Texas are so long and so hot – working outside in the summer, just planting a tree, can be so miserable. Holes started as an outlet for my misery about the hot Texas summers.

What is it about Stanley Yelnats that kids can relate to?

Stanley is carrying Zero, and is using his shovel as a walking stick. Zero has his eyes closed. Stanley is grimacing with the effort.His plight. Anyone falsely accused of a crime immediately has your sympathy. I think all adolescents feel, in one way or another, that life has treated them unfairly. And then there’s his strength of character. Stanley’s the one who’s courageous enough to run away from Camp Green Lake, to save Zero, to come back and dig that one last hole. He finds the strength within himself to do all that. It’s his bearing up under it all that makes people like him.

 

 

Kate and Sam meet. They are holding hands as if they started out shaking hands and then stopped.There are quite a few subplots in Holes: Zero’s story, which touches on the issue of homelessness, and the 19th-century interracial romance between Kissing Kate Barlow and Sam, the onion peddler.

One of my favorite parts of Holes is the whole Kate Barlow/Sam story. I had come up with the idea that this famous outlaw, Kissing Kate Barlow, had buried this treasure. And when I needed some background on Kate Barlow, I just started making her story up. Suddenly, it became my favorite part of the book. It just took off.

 

Awards
The Newberry Medal
The National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
The Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award
The New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of the Year
American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
The Kirkus Prize, School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

It was the first book ever to win both the Newberry and National Book Award.

The Newbery Medal. A round golden seal which states: John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for Children.National Book Award Winner seal.Pacific Northwest Young Reader's Choice Award seal.The Kirkus Prize seal.

Adaptations


2003 FILM

Louis Sachar in an orange jumpsuit and hat. He is posing with a shovel pretending to dig.​The best known Holes adaptation is undoubtedly the 2003 film directed by Andrew Davis for Disney.

Davis, primarily known for big budget action films like The Fugitive, Under Siege, Collateral Damage, and Code of Silence, worked closely with Sachar who wrote the screenplay. Sachar liked the process. “I like adapting my own material because it stays true to the story and true to the feelings behind the story.”

He also said, “Working with the actors was helpful–especially with the Madame Zeroni character. Once I’d heard the actress (Eartha Kitt), I made up more lines for her. I could hear the actress’s voice in my head as I was writing.

Special care was given to Zeroni’s song. “I wanted the ‘Pig Lullaby’ to sound like it was translated from an old, Eastern European song and that some elements were lost in translation, like the rhymes.”
Sachar was on the set every day of filming, working closely with Davis, and even had a cameo in old Green Lake.

The townsfolk from the early days of Green Lake. They are conversing.            Director Andrew Davis and Louis Sachar on the movie set of Holes.

THE STAGE PLAY

A staged production of Holes. The boys in the cast are in their orange jumpsuits, and Stanley is showing the others something he's found in his hole. The set is made from wooden supports covered with fabric.In 2002, the Seattle Children’s Theatre approached Sachar about adapting his novel into a play. He had just finished the screenplay and filming and felt like he was done with the story. However, the artistic director, Linda Hartzell, wouldn’t accept his “no.” She sent him an outline of what she thought the play would look like on stage. Sachar was so impressed that he agreed to adapt one more time.

A staged production of Holes with the actors playing Kate and Sam embracing.“Once I decided to do the play, I had that structure in mind. I thought that it would be more fun to have it all happening at the same time–so that, while the boys dig, we see things that happened a hundred years ago.”

A staged production of Holes. Two actors are using puppets to represent a confrontation between a yellow-spotted lizard and a snake.The play received an award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays and an OnStage Award from the Theatre Communications Group.

 

 

 

OTHER ADAPTATIONS

A jar of Sploosh with a label that says While Kissing Kate’s Sploosh had a very limited run, there are dozens of spiced peach offerings currently available to order.

Yellow-Spotted Lizards


Stanley in a hole covered in yellow-spotted lizards. He is looking up towards the right, possibly talking to someone.​One of the greatest terrors of Camp Green Lake are the yellow-spotted lizards. Aggressive and lethal, one bite is a sure and horrible death sentence.

A yellow-ish bearded dragon being held in someone's hand. The lizard seems very calm and friendly.The good news is, that yellow-spotted lizards live only in the dry bed of the imaginary Green Lake. If you’ve seen the film adaptation of the book, the terrifying creatures were really bearded dragon lizards with spots painted on. Bearded dragons are fairly docile and often kept as pets. Some owners even have a harness and leash to take them for walks.

Picture of a gila monster, the only poisonous lizard native to North America. It lives in the deserts of the Southwest.The only poisonous lizard in North America is the gila monster which lives in our southwest deserts. A gila monster’s bite is likely to cause swelling, nausea, and of course, extreme pain. Hospitalization is a good possibility, though instances of death are very rare. Still, best to stay away.

Other Works


The Wayside School SeriesBook cover of Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger by Louis Sachar.

               Sideways Stories from Wayside School
               Wayside School is Falling Down
               Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger
               Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom

Marvin Redpost Series

               Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth?
               Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me?
               Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl?    Book cover of Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth by Louis Sachar.
               Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher’s House
               Marvin Redpost: Class President
               Marvin Redpost: A Flying Birthday Cake?
               Marvin Redpost: Super Fast, Out of Control
               Marvin Redpost: A Magic Crystal?

Best of Friends: Sixth Grade

Dogs Don’t Tell Jokes

Fuzzy MudBook cover of Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar.

Johnny’s in the Basement

Monkey Soup

Pig City

Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School

More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School

Sixth Grade SecretsBook cover of Small Steps by Louis Sachar.

Small Steps

Someday Angeline

Stanley Yelnats Guide to Survival

The Boy Who Lost His Face

The Cardturner

There’s a Boy in the Girl’s BathroomBook cover of Pig City by Louis Sachar.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION


    1. Why the title Holes? What holes are in Stanley’s life when he first arrives at Camp Green Lake?
    2. Why do the boys resort to nicknames? What do these nicknames say about them? Do you think a name changes the way other people see a person? What would your Camp Green Lake nickname be and why?
    3. How does Stanley and Zero’s relationship parallel other relationships in the book?
    4. Holes is really three stories. Which speaks the most to you? Why? Can any of these stories stand without the others?
    5. Is there significance to Stanley Yelnats being a palindrome?
    6. Holes was the first book to win both the Newberry Medal and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Why do you think that happened?
    7. If you have seen the film Holes, how does it compare to the book? Which do you prefer?
    8. Does it seem like Sam is a respected member of Green Lake? Why or why not? Were you surprised to see the community turn on Kate and Sam?
    9. How does Stanley and Zero’s relationship change throughout the novel? Do you feel one of them initiates that change more? Is there a moment when the tides turn?
    10. Stanley’s father says, “I learn from failure.” What does this mean? Is there a time that you learned from failure?
    11. Before going to Camp Green Lake, Zero is homeless. How does your community deal with homelessness?
    12. Stanley and his family blame their misfortunes on Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great grandfather.” Does your family have any stories that have been passed down through generations?
    13. How does Stanley find the strength to carry Zero up the mountain even though he didn’t know what he would find at the top? Describe something you’ve done that seemed impossible. What did you learn from the experience?
    14. How does Stanley find the strength to carry Zero up the mountain even though he didn’t know what he would find at the top? Describe something you’ve done that seemed impossible. What did you learn from the experience?
    15. Even though his fate is uncertain, Stanley is suddenly very happy as he lies awake on the top of the mountain. Why? How has his life changed from the start of the story.
    16. When Hattie Parker sees Katherine and Sam kiss, she says, “God will punish you!” Based on events later in the book, whom do you think was really punished?
    17. Discuss the symbolism of:

    Holes — Onions — Spiced Peaches — God’s Thumb — Yellow Spotted Lizards

    1. If you have read any of Sachar’s other books, how does Holes compare?

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