More Than Just Digging Holes

Louis Sachar. Holes. New York: Yearling, 1998.


About Speak

“When anything bad happens to me or someone I know, I always know who to blame. My no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” -Holes

Have you ever been accused of something you didn't do? No matter what you said, nobody believed you, even though you were telling the truth. What if this accusation wasn't the first bad thing that happened in your life. What if these things happened because of a curse in your family. All this is true for a boy named Stanley Yelnats.

In Louis Sachar's Holes, the reader meets Stanley Yelnats, a boy who has bad luck due to a curse placed on his great- great-grandfather. After an unfortunate event, Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp in the middle of the desert, for a crime he did not commit. As part of their "therapy," Stanley and the other boys at the camp are forced to dig large holes in the dirt every day. To the boys, digging holes seems like punishment, but Stanley eventually realizes that they are digging holes because the Warden is searching for something. As Stanley continues to dig holes and meet the other boys at the camp, the narrator intertwines three separate stories to reveal why Stanley's family has a curse and for what the Warden is looking. Explore themes of friendship, courage, and fate, in this captivating read for young adults.

"A dazzling blend of social commentary, tall tale and magic realism."
--Publishers Weekly, Starred

"There is no question, kids will love Holes."--School Library Journal, Starred

Recommendations for Teachers

Holes is often taught in upper elementary and middle school, due to its themes and the level of its language. In the book, Louis Sachar successfully blends two intriguing stories: one that chronicles the unfortunate life of Stanley Yelnats and the other that depicts the tall tale about Stanley's great-great-grandfather. These stories are composed of both humorous and heartwarming scenes that make the book ideal for reading aloud and for classroom study. Students will enjoy the story's characters and the appeasing conclusion that rights several wrongs.

Possible Discussion Before Reading:
  • Have the class research juvenile detention centers in their state. Ask them to investigate the purpose of a juvenile detention center. How does the state work to rehabilitate juvenile offenders? What is the purpose of a probation officer? How is it determined whether a juvenile can be tried as an adult?

Possible Writing Prompts:
  • What role do Stanley's friendships play in the story?
  • How did the boys change during their experiences at Camp Green Lake?
  • How were adults portrayed in the story?
  • What is the role of family in the story?

Thematic Connections:
Borrowed from Teachers@Random
  • Belonging: Stanley is overweight and considered a misfit by the boys in his school and neighborhood. Ask students to discuss why Stanley is an easy target for bullies. At what point in the novel does Stanley begin feeling that he is a part of the group? Who is the leader? How do the guys view Stanley at the end of the novel? How might Stanley be considered a hero? Involve the class in a discussion about how Stanley's heroic status might change the way his classmates view him when he returns to school in the fall.
  • Sense of Self: Ask students to make a list of the campers and their nicknames. Discuss the significance of each boy's nickname. Why is Stanley called "Caveman"? How can nicknames "label" people and affect the way they feel about themselves? How does Stanley's self-concept change as the story progresses? Why does Stanley call Zero by his real name when they are in the desert together? Engage the class in a discussion about how Stanley and Zero help one another gain a more positive sense of self.
  • Courage: Ask the class to define courage. When does Stanley begin to show courage? Have students chart Stanley's courageous acts (e.g., stealing the truck). Which other campers might be considered courageous? What gives Stanley the courage to search for Zero? Discuss which characters in the parallel story demonstrate courage. Ask students to prepare questions they would most like to ask Stanley about his newly developed courage. How might Stanley answer their questions?
  • Friendship: Stanley never had a friend before arriving at Camp Green Lake. Ask students to trace the development of Stanley's friendship with Zero. What are each boy's contributions to the friendship? When Stanley finds out that Zero is the person who stole the Clyde Livingston sneakers, he feels glad that Zero put the sneakers on the parked car. Explore why.

Lesson Plans:
Unit Plan
Scholastic Lesson Plans

Meet the Author

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Louis Sachar was born in East Meadow, New York on March 20, 1954, and lived there until 3rd grade when he then moved to Tustin, California. As a teenager, Sachar was inspired to read when he became interested in authors like J.D. Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut, becoming an avid reader from then on. He went on to college at Antioch College in Ohio, but dropped out due to a family tragedy and returned to a college closer to home, the University of California, Berkeley, to study Economics. A random opportunity allowing Sachar to be a Teacher Assistant changed his life, as he fell in love with the profession. After he graduated in 1976, he decided to write a children's book entitled Sideways Stories Form Wayside School, based on the students in the school he had previously taught. Sachar continued his education at law school, and after he graduated, he practiced law while writing children's books on the side. It wasn't until his books started seeling that he realized that writing was his true passion and what he wanted to do. His arguably most popular novel, Holes, won a number of awards including the Newberry Medal and the National Book Award. Louis Sarchar's other book titles can be found in the additional resources at the bottom of the page.


Holes was made into a Disney movie in 2003. Because the plot of the movie does not differ much from the book, it can be used as a resource to enhance students' experiences of the book, providing them with something to compare to their own experiences and understandings from reading. As a part of an assignment, instructors can prompt students to rewrite a scene of the movie or make a trailer for their own version of the film.


"Dig it" is an official song from "Hole" the movie. Students can create their own songs after reading to give their own interpretation of the story.

Additional Resources

--Torie Smith, Emily Bock, Danielle Veldheer, Jessica Faleni