How to Eat Fried Worms is a youth-targeted novel written by Thomas Rockwell and first published in 1973. It is currently being published by Bantam Books with ISBN number 0440445450. The novel is noted for being the 13th most challenged and banned book of the 1990s in American libraries.

The Story
The central character in the story is a boy named Billy. One day, Billy and his friends begin discussing various disgusting foods to eat, triggered by a comment about salmon casserole. After a bit of discussion, Billy claims that he would be able to eat worms, since they are "just dirt." This claim quickly dissolves into a bet with one of his friends, in which Billy claims that he can eat fifteen worms for $50; one a day for the next fifteen days.

The book goes into great detail describing the first worm that Billy eats, which is a very large one (too large for Billy to simply gulp down). Billy's "friends" have boiled the worm and present it to Billy on a plate.

After five days and five worms, Billy gets ill and tells his parents about the bet. After they check with the family doctor to make sure that eating worms is healthy, his parents actually get into helping Billy with the bet, coming up with some interesting ways to prepare the worms.

Eventually, Billy actually gets quite close to completing the bet, and thus his friends get nervous because $50 is a lot of money. Eventually, they start to try to prevent Billy from eating his worm each day by using sneaky tactics (gluing worms together to make one huge worm, or distracting Billy all day long).

The tale resolves itself in an amusing fashion, and it's a quick read, so you're invited to pick it up and read it to a younger friend or relative, or even read it yourself.

Why Was It Banned?
The novel was banned for two primary reasons, each of which raised a great deal of concern in front of many school boards in the 1990s.

First, the book encouraged children to partake in socially unacceptable activities. In this book, the activity is eating worms, which is perceived as being disgusting and not socially acceptable. Thus, concerned parents argued that this book encourages such disgusting antisocial behavior.

Second, the book encouraged children to bet on things, or in essence gamble. Since gambling is perceived as an activity of low morals and also presents the risk for great economic loss, it was felt that impressionable children could begin to fall down the slippery slope of gambling because of this book.

Both concerns meet at one central point: they both assume that the book is doing the parenting and not the parents. By laying the blame for antisocial behavior and other activities that a parent might not approve of on an otherwise strong piece of youth fiction, the parents miss the point that they are in fact responsible for the raising and morals of their own children.

Using The Novel In A Classroom
This novel is actually quite useful for classroom use, particularly among the fourth to fifth grade age set. In fact, it was because of the novel's suitability (in many ways) to classroom use that caused it to be widely known and banned in the first place.

This book is very strong in terms of reading comprehension, especially when read in bits and pieces. The premise of the book, involving a child eating worms, triggers a response in people that usually works as a great attention getter, causing the students to care about the book. From there, the novel progresses to carefully detailed plots to keep Billy from eating worms along with methods for eating the worms. These scenarios will usually cause the children to talk about and inevitably think about the book, which is the key to reading comprehension.

I Read How To Eat Fried Worms!
I remember fondly reading How To Eat Fried Worms in the fourth grade. In our reading class, we read several "youth novels" such as this one, and it was by far the most popular. I quite enjoyed it, and remember vividly talking to friends about the book, not realizing that this very act was part of the educational process.

How to Eat Fried Worms is simply an enjoyable children's novel with a bit of notoriety brought on by censorship-loving school boards. Buy it and read it with the children around you; likely, you'll both enjoy the experience.

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