I’m rereading this book out loud to my elementary/middle school classroom, and they are just loving it. They seem to connect to both Zero and Stanley, as they’ve all been bullies, been on the out group, in the in group, struggled to learn something, been really smart at something else. The concept of someone being poor and coming from an unlucky background is something many of them can relate to, the quest for friendship and buried treasure is an exciting motivator.
As I’m reading this, I’m thinking about how much different it feels to read it as an adult than it did as a kid. This book is full of teachable moments, and we’ve had great discussions about racism, responsibility, work ethic, and oppression. There are many uncomfortable scenes throughout the book, such as one of the staff members calling Zero a slave, and the other boys comparing him to a slave. We talked about why that feels uncomfortable in class, and the kids were able to connect to this scene.
There are some great scenes, where the kids and I are all laughing out loud. A favorite scene of ours is when Stanley and Zero find the boat named Mary Lou, and the two boys imagine Mary Lou as a beautiful woman wearing a bathing suit, when in fact we know that Mary Lou was a donkey, who was very loved, but not beautiful in the same way that the female figure is fantasized about.
Sachar does a wonderful job of letting the reader put the whole picture together. He gives snippets of information here and there, then leaves it up to the reader to bring the whole of it together before the end, where he does ultimately reveal the full plot. The kids in my class were so excited when they were able to guess what was coming before it was revealed.