Monday, March 29, 2010

Classic Monday: How to Eat Fried Worms

How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell, was first published in 1953. You might think that a book this old just wouldn't translate well for modern kids, but the premise -- a bet between some boys that one of them will eat fifteen worms in fifteen days -- possesses just enough of that gross-out factor to still be attractive to kids everywhere.

Billy accepts the challenge from his friends Joe and Alan. On the line is Alan's savings -- $50. Most of the book is consumed with Billy eating worms and Alan and Joe trying to trick or otherwise prevent him from doing it so they won't lose the bet.

This isn't a long book, only about 145 pages, and in some ways not a lot happens. A full chapter is devoted to the first worm Billy manages to eat, and it's mainly description of him chewing and swallowing with great determination. Other chapters are similarly devoted to Alan and Joe's tactics -- sometimes straightforward, sometimes underhanded -- as they try to keep Billy from eating his worms. Worms are boiled, fried, slathered in horseradish sauce, buried in ice cream -- whatever necessary for Billy to get them down. And he can't just swallow them: he has to chew them up.

I read this one aloud to my 6 year old about a month ago and he really liked it. Our edition had the original illustrations in it, line drawings of some of the events, and that helped him stay on track with the story. He was particularly fascinated with the idea of eating the worms and we talked quite a bit about whether or not we would be willing to eat a worm to win a bet, what we'd need to put on it to eat it, how it should be cooked, etc. It's revolting stuff like this that just reels boys in and my kid was no exception.

This one worked well as a read-aloud, although Rockwell sometimes tends to write in loose fragmentary sentences that can get kind of confusing as you're reading along. I probably wouldn't go much younger than 6 for read aloud. Accelerated reader puts this one at a 3.5 for grade level and that seems about right for independent reading. It is a book often recommended for boys since all the characters are boys and the subject matter is one that appeals to boys, but my 8 year old daughter read it last summer and liked it too. There's no swearing, no violence, nobody gets killed or blown up and yet it's still a good book. Go figure.

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