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Holes

by Louis Sachar

The Book Club Novel Guide outlines a complete theme-based unit with Book Club lesson plans focusing on Holes.

Buy the Novel Buy the Book Club Novel Guide

Below you will find a synopsis, further reading materials, discussion topics, and reviews that you might find useful during your teaching of Holes.

A Synopsis

Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility, for a crime he didn’t commit. As “rehabilitation,” each camper digs one five-foot circular hole in the parched desert soil every day. After seeing the Warden’s excitement over the discovery of a lipstick tube bearing the initials KB, Stanley realizes that she’s looking for something more than a way to build boys’ characters. Before Stanley can decide what to do with this knowledge, his friend Zero is forced to run away into the desert. Stanley knows that Zero has no water and will not survive very long. He also knows that nobody else will look for Zero, a loner without a family or friends. After several days, he runs off to look for Zero.

Stanley has often heard the story of how his great-grandfather was robbed by notorious outlaw Kate Barlow and survived in the desert by finding refuge on “God’s thumb.” Stanley now sees a distant mountain shaped like a thumb and heads toward it. Along the way he finds Zero, who is fading fast. Stanley carries Zero up the mountain, thus erasing a curse on his family that started when his great-great-grandfather failed to honor a promise to carry Zero’s great-great-great-grandmother up a mountain. The boys find water and onions and regain their strength. They then formulate a plan to return to camp, find the Warden’s treasure, and escape.

Stanley and Zero accomplish the first two parts of their plan. However, just as Stanley unearths an old suitcase, the Warden catches them. She is unable to take the suitcase immediately because the boys are covered with deadly yellow-spotted lizards. Finally, Stanley’s lawyer arrives and announces that Stanley is innocent and free to go. Because the Warden destroyed all of Zero’s records when she thought he had perished in the desert, he must be released, too.

The suitcase turns out to contain Stanley’s great-grandfather’s fortune, which was stolen by Kate Barlow. Both Stanley and Zero become wealthy, and Zero is reunited with his mother.

Further Reading and Links

The following sites can be used to support and enrich the Book Club unit for Holes by Louis Sachar.

About the Author and the Book

  • Louis Sachar Official Website — From this page, visitors can access information about Louis Sachar, including an interview with him, a biography, and bibliographies.
  • The Horn Book — Read his acceptance speech at the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.
  • New York Times — This review of Holes was done in 1998. In 2006 The New York Times interviewed Louis Sachar who answered questions about the connection of "Small Steps" to "Holes," his childhood, and writing for kids.
  • Common Sense Media — This review gives the book 5 out of 5 stars. See also user reviews and details about the book.
  • Holes as Movie — In 2003 Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media released the movie Holes based on the novel.

Learn More About the Setting of the Novel

  • Texas — This site offers a timeline of important historical events for the state of Texas.
  • Deserts of the U.S.A. — The Chihuahan Desert extends into western Texas. Visitors can see pictures of this landscape and acquire information about this arid part of Texas that resembles the setting of the novel.

Find Out More About Recurring Images in the Novel

  • Rattlesnakes — Drawings and diagrams complement the facts given about many aspects of the rattlesnake, including its food habits, habitat, identification, general biology, reproduction, and behavior.
  • Spotted Salamander — Although the spotted salamander is not deadly and is found only at the edge of eastern Texas, this site is worth viewing to see the compelling photographs of the yellow-spotted creature. The photographs are immensely vivid, making the lizard mentioned in Sachar's novel come to life. Some text accompanies the photographs.
  • Onions — Stopping at this website provides visitors with comprehensive details about onions. Facts can be accessed about the health benefits, the history, the types of onions grown in Texas, and fun onion trivia.
  • Spiced Peaches Recipe — Here is a recipe for spiced peaches using fresh peaches.

Investigate the Past

  • Wild West Index — Visitors can track down famous outlaws, both men and women, who operated in Texas and surrounding states as well as the lawmen who pursued them.

Big Theme Questions

Which factor is more important in shaping the direction of our lives: destiny or decision making?

How does a person’s past influence his or her present and future?

Do you believe that “what goes around comes around”? Why, or why not?

How does helping others make a person whole?

Outline of Lesson Plan | Discussion Topics | Writing Prompts

The following section can be used to get discussions started in your classroom. It is based on the Lesson Plan within the Book Club Novel Guide for Holes. The Lesson Plan includes blackline masters for the students that support the writing prompts. The writing prompts provided are meant as suggestions only. As students become more comfortable with the Book Club format, they will certainly have ideas and questions that go beyond the prompts. Consider giving students “free choice” as a log option. Book Club Reading Logs help students respond to literature and organize ideas as they participate in Book Club.


Chapters 1–5 | Comprehension: Visualizing

  • Draw or describe your mental image of Camp Green Lake. Which details help you form this image? What mood or feeling does the setting create?
  • What do you think of Stanley so far? What is his family like? Are the Yelnatses like your own family in any way?
  • Do you think Stanley will make friends at Camp Green Lake? What kind of nickname might the boys give him?
  • Do you think Stanley believes in the family curse? Explain.

Chapters 6–7 | Literary Elements: Flashback; Irony

  • How does it feel when you tell the truth and no one believes you?
  • Why do you think Elya didn’t guess a number to win Myra? How are Stanley and Elya similar?
  • How has Stanley changed since he first arrived at Camp Green Lake?

Chapters 8–11 | Literary Elements: Dialogue

  • Do you think the yellow-spotted lizards will be important in the story? What do you think might happen?
  • Do you think Caveman is a good nickname for Stanley? Explain.
  • Stanley doesn’t understand why the Warden wouldn’t consider his fossil interesting. What do you think the Warden would find interesting?
  • Why is X-Ray the leader of the group? Is it fair for him to ask Stanley to give him whatever Stanley finds? What would you do if you were Stanley?
  • List recurring images that you find in these chapters.

Chapters 12–14 | Response to Literature: Issue of Personal Accountability

  • Do you agree with Mr. Pendanski that Stanley is the one responsible for getting himself into this mess? Why?
  • Do you think Zero really likes to dig holes? Why do you suppose he’s angry all the time?
  • What is the Warden like?
  • Why do you think the boys are required to dig holes?

Chapters 15–18 | Language Conventions: Book Club Talk

  • How does the author build suspense in these chapters? What do you learn about the boys’ digging? How are their efforts ironic?
  • How do you feel about Stanley as he writes his letter to his mother? Do your feelings change at the end of Chapter 18?
  • Why do you think Zero has never seen Sesame Street? What was your reaction to learning that he cannot read or write?

Chapters 19–22 | Comprehension: Character Motivation

  • Why does Stanley say he stole the seeds? Was it the right thing to do?
  • What does Zero do while Stanley is with the Warden? What does this action reveal about Zero and show Stanley?
  • Explain what you think the Warden means when she says that Mr. Sir won’t die, “Unfortunately for you.” Why do you think Mr. Sir and the camp counselors allow the Warden to treat them as she does?
  • What might you infer if you knew that the lipstick tube belonged to Kate Barlow, the outlaw?

Chapters 23–26 | Comprehension: Cause and Effect

  • Trace the causes and effects of the events that occurred at Green Lake 110 years ago.
  • What event foreshadowed that Trout Walker would try to punish Katherine Barlow?
  • How and why did Katherine Barlow change after Sam’s death? Was she right to kill the sheriff?
  • How has Stanley changed since the beginning of the novel?
  • What is the author illustrating about the danger of “mob mentality”?

Chapters 27–28 | Literary Elements: Dramatic Irony

  • Why does Mr. Sir put or pretend to put something in Stanley’s water?
  • What is important about Zero’s real name? Does Stanley realize this?
  • Note all the ways in which the story of Kate Barlow is connected to Stanley’s story at Camp Green Lake. How do you think the Warden fits in? Note connections and draw conclusions.
  • Does Stanley feel good about his arrangement with Zero? How do you know?

Chapters 29–30 | Language Conventions: Reading Log Entries

  • Write a reading log entry using a response type that you haven’t used yet.
  • Predict what will happen in Part 2, based on the title “The Last Hole.”
  • How might Stanley’s great-grandfather’s story and “God’s thumb” be tied to Camp Green Lake?
  • What do you think will happen to Zero? Will he come back for water?

Chapters 31–34 | Response to Literature: Problem Solving

  • Why does the Warden want all of Zero’s records destroyed?
  • Describe Stanley’s conflict in the four days after Zero runs away. Why does it take him so long to decide what to do? Why is his final decision a turning point in his development?
  • How would you set about finding Zero? What factors would you take into consideration?
  • What is important about the name on the boat? Make connections and draw conclusions.
  • Add to your list of recurring images from these and previous chapters.

Chapters 35–37 | Literary Elements: Humor; Setting

  • What is “sploosh”?
  • Why are Stanley and Zero’s ideas about Mary Lou humorous as well as ironic?
  • What do Stanley’s thoughts about death reveal about his character?
  • Fill in Zero’s character map with details from these and other chapters.
  • Draw the mountain as you visualize it from the description in Chapters 36 and 37.

Chapters 38–40 | Response to Literature: Feelings About Characters

  • Do you feel differently toward Stanley after reading these chapters? Why, or why not?
  • What parallels or similarities do you see between Stanley’s story and Elya’s? Between Stanley’s story and Sam and Kate’s story? Do these parallels make the novel more interesting? Why?
  • What do you think Zero means about taking the shoes?
  • Why does the author emphasize the “long, hard climb”? What does it say about Zero and Stanley’s friendship?

Chapters 41–43 | Comprehension: Prediction

  • How did Stanley end up with Sweet Feet’s sneakers? What happened between the moment when Zero put them on the car and the moment when Stanley acquired them?
  • Why does Stanley like himself now? Why does he feel destiny working in his life?
  • How did Zero’s story about his mother make you feel?
  • What do you think will happen to Stanley and Zero?

Chapters 44–47 | Literary Elements: Recurring Images and Theme

  • Why aren’t the lizards biting Stanley and Zero?
  • Why does the suitcase have Stanley’s name on it?
  • What are some possible themes of the book?
  • Complete your list of significant images and decide what each one means.

Chapters 48–50 | Response to Literature: Analyzing Plot Resolution

  • What irony can you find in Chapters 48 and 49?
  • What does the title of Part 3 mean? Were you able to “fill in the holes” in Chapter 50? What questions still remain in your mind? Would the story have been better or worse if the author had provided every detail about what happened?
  • Compare the words of Zero’s mother’s song (Chapter 50) to those of Stanley’s version (Chapter 39). How do the themes of the songs differ?