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How to Eat Fried Worms: Children's book critique

Grades: 3rd-5th

In the 70’s, Thomas Rockwell’s How to  Eat Fried Worms was a children’s book that was either given as suggested reading or was read out loud in class.  How to Eat Fried Worms can still be found on elementary school reading lists today. 

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When I was in the third grade, we would all join together for group reading time. It was one of the last things we did in our day. All four groups and three of the teachers would gather together on the carpet, with Mrs. Yaeger at the head in a student chair. Muffled movements of excitement and getting comfortable, and of Mrs. Yaeger clearing her throat were the only things that could be heard at those times. I rather believe you could also hear the anticipation in all the third graders’ breathing as we looked around to make sure everyone was doing what they were suppose to be doing. No one wanted there to be any reasons for Mrs. Yaeger to decide reading time would be replaced with heads down time at our tables. It was a late winter day, when we got to hear… How to Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell.

The girls, of course all thought it was gross. Though I must say we were still intrigued. As for the boys, well, they were in seventh heaven, and it opened their minds up not only to the messages How to Eat Fried Worms brought into those winter afternoons, but also the possibility that reading isn’t all that bad. They could relate, really relate to the characters, and the daft situation, which they thought heroic.

How to Eat Fried Worms speaks of a sense of

  • integrity,
  • keeping ones word,
  • trust,
  • sticking through to the end,
  • friendship,
  • and creatively rethinking tasks at hand so that perseverance was something attainable.
How to Eat Fried Worms
By Thomas Rockwell

One of the greatest things about this book is that it is quite to the point. Not too much, not too little, keeps the pages turning, makes you wonder in the mean time. And for the child that wants to feel accomplishment in those early elementary grades, the chapters in How to Eat Fried Worms are short, some of them not even a full page. This is one of the reasons that it is clear that one of the main elements of this book is to guide the new chapter book reader. Another is that its chapter numbers (in roman numerals) and chapter titles are in bold, bubble-like font.

There are 42 chapters, (including the Epilogue), with interesting titles, such as “Red crash helmets and white jump suits”, “Admirals Nagumo and Kusaka on the Bridge of the Akaiga, December 6, 1941”,and “$%#!blip*+&!”. The pages are durable and manilla paper-ish. The font is mostly regular typeface, with all caps when something said is stressed, letters as though from a typewriter, and some is even hand written. There is definite action not just in the story, but in how the story is presented on each page, from the chapter titles, to the changes in font sizes and types, to the black rubber stamp images either fitted into the paragraphs or on a page of their own.

The fact that all the elements of How to Eat Fried Worms guide the reader along from beginning to end makes this an especially great book for independent study. The premise? A dare to eat 15 worms in 15 days for 50 dollars. The crème de la crème are the wonderful recipes, for those bold enough try, found at the Epilogue.


CLICK HERE FOR ED HELPER’S How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell (Grades 3-5) Literature Unit