Page 3. " There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas "

Camp Green Lake is a fictional location, but there are many dried up lakes around the world. Some leave behind a large area of salt, others cracked mud or dried earth. It would look something like this:


Black Rock Desert
GNU Free Documentation LicenseBlack Rock Desert - Credit: Ikluft / Wikimedia Commons















The movie of Holes was made at Cuddeback Lake in the Mojave Desert:


Cuddeback Dry Lake Bed, No 1


 Texas is the second largest state in the USA, situated in the south and sharing a border with Mexico. It has an extremely varied climate, dry in the west and humid in the east, with a lot of winter snowfall in the mountains but rarely ever in the more arid areas. In the Chihuahuan Desert temperatures reach 35-40°C (95-104°F) in summer. In his acceptance speech for the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, the author, Louis Sachar, said “Holes was inspired by my dislike of the hot Texas summer.”

Page 4. " But you don’t want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard "
Yellow Spotted Tropical Night Lizard
Public DomainYellow Spotted Tropical Night Lizard - Credit: United States Dept. of the Interior / Wikimedia Commons

Yellow-spotted lizards are actually a real animal, though they are not as lethal as portrayed in this book.

They are dark in colour with yellow spots running down their length. They have black teeth and a white tongue, a snake-like head, a rough body, and a pale yellowish underbelly. They are very aggressive and will bite a human who comes too close, but their bite is not venomous. They eat insects, scorpions, spiders and centipedes, and they actually tend to live on damp ground in rainforests or wet areas, not the desert. They like to hide under rocks or logs, and they are nocturnal. The lizards described in the story, though very like the real yellow-spotted lizards in appearance, are much more dangerous.

Page 5. " Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys "
Boot camps are styled on military training camps
Public DomainBoot camps are styled on military training camps - Credit: United States Marine Corp / Wikimedia Commons

Camp Green Lake is where juvenile offenders are sent to be taught discipline and to be punished.


Boot camps for juvenile offenders are used in Canada and the United States as an alternative to juvenile prison. Offenders are usually offered the choice of boot camp or prison, with the time allotted at boot camp being significantly less than the prison term. They are modelled after military recruit training camps, with a focus on discipline, intense training and hard physical activity.


Methods used to keep children in line can be aggressive, and these boot camps have been criticised for only instilling in their campers frustration, resentment and low self-esteem. Some people believe the camps are an effective way of preventing repeat offences, while others claim that the numbers do not back this up. In this story, Stanley and the other children are treated so badly that the camp and its process of rehabilitation is little more than an excuse for child abuse. This may seem unrealistic, but some real boot camps have been accused of going too far. According to the New York Times, juvenile boot camps have caused 31 known deaths since 1980. In Florida, state run boot camps were banned after the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who was beaten and collapsed during extreme physical exercise. While he was unconscious, guards placed ammonia tablets near his nose to wake him up, causing him to suffocate.


Not all boot camps are so extreme in their methods, with some focussing on education as well as physical work, and adding more calming activities to encourage a change in attitude. The aim of these is to provide a place away from negative and triggering influences where self-destructive behaviour can be turned around. Boot camps remain a controversial issue in the United States and Canada, and are not widely used in other countries.


Page 8. " Supposedly, he had a great-great-grandfather who had stolen a pig from a one-legged Gypsy, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants "

Gypsies migrated from northern India into Europe around 1500 years ago. They are also known as ‘Romani’. Many are nomadic, and so the word ‘gypsy’ has sometimes come to be applied to any wandering ethnic group. In fiction gypsies have been popularly endowed with mystical powers, fortune telling abilities, and strange magic. In reality, they tend to take on the dominant religion of the country in which they live, with some elements of Hindu belief remaining.


Page 9. " The first Stanley Yelnats, Stanley’s great-grandfather, had made a fortune in the stock market "

Phillippine stock market board
Creative Commons AttributionPhillippine stock market board - Credit: Katrina.Tuliao / Wikimedia Commons
The stock market is a public market where company shares are traded. This can take place on the trading floor, where verbal bids are made, creating something of a loud and chaotic atmosphere, or alternatively in a virtual stock market with bids made electronically. One of the most famous physical stock exchanges is the New York Stock Exchange. Huge amounts of money can be made from buying stocks when they are cheap and selling them when they increase in value. However, there are also huge risks associated with this. That’s why it is sometimes referred to as ‘playing the stock market’.


Page 9. " His stagecoach was robbed by the outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow "

An outlaw is a person declared outside the protection of the law, meaning that anyone was permitted to kill them. Many such outlaws became bandits, living away from large areas of civilisation and surviving by robbing others. One common method was to lie in wait in remote areas and rob passing travellers. Such outlaws are a popular staple of Wild West stories.


A stagecoach was a covered wagon drawn by four horses, running between stations, or stages, in different towns. These were commonly used before major railways were built, and the post was sent via stagecoach.


Concord Stagecoach, in the American West
Public DomainConcord Stagecoach, in the American West - Credit: US National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons


Page 12. " Stanley noticed a burlap sack filled with sunflower seeds on the floor next to the desk "
Burlap (Hessian)
Public DomainBurlap (Hessian) - Credit: Public Domain Pictures on Pixabay

Burlap (hessian) is a material woven from jute or sisal fibres. It tends to be rough and coarse, and so is used for sacking and other practical applications rather than clothing or decoration.


Sunflower seeds are the fruit of the sunflower plant and can be eaten as a healthy snack. They are full of nutrients and are a good source of fibre.

Page 14. " This isn’t a Girl Scout Camp "
Girl Scout in uniform, 1973
Public DomainGirl Scout in uniform, 1973 - Credit: Father of JGKlein / Wikimedia Commons

 Girl Scouts (or Girl Guides) is a youth organisation for young girls, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. The Scouting movement began in Britain but is now found worldwide, with different categories and organisations for boys and girls and for different ages. Scouting groups are meant to be developmental, providing physical activities, new skills, instruments, sports, trekking and camping, and encouraging charity work. Scout groups from different areas might meet up at special camps, which are meant to be fun as well as character-building.

Girl Scout working on her Gold Award Project
Public DomainGirl Scout working on her Gold Award Project - Credit: Darthgriz98 / Wikimedia Commons

Stanley’s camp will be nothing like a Scout camp, in which friendship and bonding is encouraged, activities are fun, and the adults take good care of the campers. Mr. Sir has probably referenced the Girl Scouts due to the perception that they are somehow ‘wimpier’ than the Boy Scouts. In fact there is usually little difference between the activities undertaken by the two organisations.


Page 15. " You’ll be buzzard food in three days "

Vultures on a cow carcass
Public DomainVultures on a cow carcass - Credit: JerryFriedman / Wikimedia Commons
‘Buzzard’ can refer to one of a number of large birds, but in this case it refers to vultures. Vultures are scavengers; they eat carrion (dead animals), and will circle in the air over dying creatures. They live in many different climates, but are particularly associated with the desert, where they will descend on the bodies of those lost and killed in the heat.


Page 18. " “My name’s not Alan,” the boy said. “It’s Squid. And that’s X-Ray "
Names and their power is one of this book's themes
Public DomainNames and their power is one of this book's themes - Credit: InverseHypercube / Wikimedia Commons

The power of names is a theme revisited several times in this book. Many characters either change their name or use a pseudonym. In this way, the boys at the camp regain a sense of control in circumstances where they are extremely disempowered. The names they choose are sometimes strange, but often carry associations of strength, skill and power, or reflect their position amongst the others. Names such as ‘Squid’, ‘Magnet’, ‘Armpit’ and ‘Caveman’, suggest force and barbarity. They sound slightly unpleasant, the boys’ way of stating that they are dangerous: society’s rejects. Zero’s name reflects how he is seen by the other boys at the camp. The boys’ real names, however, are something precious, something that makes them vulnerable. Later Zero will give his real name to Stanley like it is a gift.


Other characters' names are important too. Stanley Yelnats is the same forwards and backwards, suggesting that both these characters (great-grandfather and great-grandson) are caught up in a loop of fate. Kissin’ Kate is another character who takes on a pseudonym in order to re-invent herself. At camp, Mr. Pendanski is ‘Mom’ because he is the one who tends to show more concern for the boys’ welfare. ‘Mr. Sir’ is an attempt to establish authority, and the Warden is simply ‘the Warden’, emphasising her power. The adults’ anonymity at the camp also brings a slightly sinister note. Are they hiding something?

Page 22. " Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston was a famous baseball player. He’d led the American League in stolen bases over the last three years. He was also the only player in history to ever hit four triples in one game "
Baseball (Wrigley Field, Chicago)
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeBaseball (Wrigley Field, Chicago) - Credit: Rdikeman / Wikimedia Commons

 Baseball is a sport played on a field with two teams of nine players. One team takes positions on the field, with a pitcher who throws the ball, and the other team bats. The aim is to hit the ball and run to as many bases (first, second, third, home) as possible before the opposing team retrieves the ball and tags a base to stop the baserunner. If the ball is caught without touching the ground, the batter is out. If a base is tagged while the batter is running to it, and they don’t make it back to the previous base in time (or there is another batter at that base), then they are out. The teams switch places when the fielders have managed to get three batters out.


A stolen base is scored when a baserunner makes a dash for the next base while the pitcher is throwing the ball to the next batter, before the batter hits it. If the defence makes no attempt to get the baserunner out, then it is not scored as a stolen base.


Ty Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 1924
Public DomainTy Cobb safe at third after making a triple, 1924 - Credit: National Photo Company / Wikimedia Commons

Hitting four triples in one game means that Clyde hit the ball and successfully made it to third base, four times in one game. Hitting a triple is quite a rare occurrence in baseball, as it requires the batter to reach third base without a fielder’s misplay (a fumbled throw or a dropped ball, for example, that allows the baserunner the chance to advance a base) or fielder’s choice (when the baserunner advances a base because the defence were occupied trying to put out a different baserunner). It is therefore very exciting when it happens.


The American League is one of the two leagues that constitute Major League Baseball in the United States and Canada.




A video of a baserunner stealing a base:



Page 24. " He had just walked out from under a freeway overpass "
An overpass in Washington DC
GNU Free Documentation LicenseAn overpass in Washington DC - Credit: Rfc1394 / Wikimedia Commons

A freeway (known as highway or motorway in other countries) is a road designed for high speed travel. They are usually very wide, with three or more lanes. Where they cross other roads they are raised up on overpasses or skirt under on underpasses.