Stanley Yelnats IV lives in a town in Texas with his mother, father, and paternal grandfather. His father is an inventor who is unsuccessfully trying to create a shoe spray to eliminate foot odor. The Yelnats family has a history of bad luck, which they blame on Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats. As a young man in Latvia, Elya asks a fortune teller named Madame Zeroni to help him win the hand of a beautiful local woman. Madame Zeroni agrees and instructs him to carry a baby pig up a mountain each day. Elya is to have the pig drink from the stream at the top of the mountain while he sings to it. When the pig is grown, Elya must carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain so that she too can drink from the stream. If he fails to do so, Madame Zeroni tells him that he and his family, “will be cursed for always and eternity.”
In the present day, Stanley Yelnats IV is wrongfully convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers that were donated to charity by a famous baseball player named Clyde “Sweet Feet” Livingston. He is found guilty in court and the judge gives Stanley the option of going to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention camp, or directly to jail. Stanley naïvely tells the judge that he has “never been to camp before,” and he is sentenced to 18 months at Camp Green Lake.
Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake to find that the lake is a dry lake. The camp is run by warden Louise Walker, her assistant Mr. Sir, and camp counselor Dr. Pendanski. The area is also inhabited by yellow-spotted lizards that are aggressive and lethally venomous. Each day, prisoners are required to dig a cylindrical hole as deep and as wide as the shovel they dug it with. Stanley is told that digging holes will help him and his fellow inmates build character.
Stanley meets his fellow prisoners, who all go by nicknames. He is assigned to a cabin with Zero, Zigzag, Armpit, Squid, X-Ray, and Magnet. They spend each day together digging holes in the desert. Stanley learns that he can earn a day off if he finds anything that interests the warden while he’s digging his daily hole.
One day, Stanley finds an old lipstick tube engraved with the initials, K.B. X-Ray convinces Stanley to give him the lipstick tube, arguing that Stanley has been at the camp for the shortest amount of time so he doesn’t deserve a day off as much as the rest of the boys. Back at camp, Stanley accidentally gets into a fight with another prisoner and earns the nickname, Caveman.
After taking the blame for Magnet stealing Mr. Sir’s sunflower seeds, Stanley is taken to the warden’s house by Mr. Sir as punishment. At the house, Stanley sees an old wanted poster for Katherine “Kissin’ Kate” Barlow, a school teacher turned outlaw in the early 20th century. He realizes that the K.B. on the lipstick tube stands for Katherine Barlow.
Camp Green Lake’s history is revealed in a series of flashbacks. A century earlier, Green Lake was a flourishing lakeside community. Katherine Barlow, a school teacher, is romantically pursued by the wealthy Charles “Trout” Walker whom she rejects as she is in love with an African-American man named Sam, who sells onions in town.
After catching the two kissing one evening, Walker incites the town’s citizens to burn down the schoolhouse and kill Sam. In retaliation, Barlow kills the local sheriff who ignored her pleas for help and becomes an outlaw hunting down Walker’s men, leaving a kiss on their cheeks with her lipstick. At one point, she steals a chest of gold from Stanley’s great-grandfather but does not kill him. Twenty years later, after a drought causes the lake to dry up, the now-bankrupt Trout Walker and his wife track down Barlow and demand she hand over her treasure. Barlow refuses and tells them to dig for the treasure, after which Barlow dies from a self-inflicted lizard bite.
In the present, Stanley and Zero, whose real name is Hector Zeroni, form a close friendship. Zero asks Stanley to teach him how to read and in exchange Zero digs Stanley’s holes during the day. One day, Pendanski mocks Zero for his stupidity. Zero retaliates by hitting Pendanski with a shovel before running off into the desert.
After a few days, Stanley runs off into the desert to search for Zero. Stanley finds Zero alive underneath an overturned boat in the middle of the desert. The pair decide to climb to the top of a thumb-shaped mountain peak called “God’s Thumb”. Zero passes out during the climb and Stanley carries him to the top of the mountain, where they find water and a wild field of onions. Stanley sings while Zero is revived by drinking water. In doing so, Stanley unknowingly fulfills his ancestor’s promise to Madame Zeroni and breaks his family’s curse. When Zero regains his strength, he tells Stanley that he stole Livingston’s sneakers and threw them over the bridge to evade police, only for them to inadvertently hit Stanley, who was then mistaken for the thief.
Stanley and Zero investigate the hole where Stanley found the lipstick and discover a chest buried in the ground. Walker, Mr. Sir, and Pendanski find Stanley and Zero and demand that they give the chest to them. The hole is swarmed with yellow-spotted lizards, preventing the adults from taking the chest from Zero and Stanley. They soon realize that the warden, who is a descendant of Charles Walker, was using the inmates to dig for Kissin’ Kate’s treasure.
The next morning, the attorney general and Stanley’s lawyer arrive to pick up Stanley. Still in the hole, Zero reads the name on the chest and finds that it belongs to Stanley’s great-grandfather. Stanley and Zero are released and Walker, Mr. Sir, and Pendanski are arrested. It rains in Green Lake for the first time in over 100 years.
The Yelnats family claims ownership of the chest which contains jewels, deeds, and promissory notes. They split the contents of the chest with Zero, who uses it to hire private investigators to locate his missing mother. Stanley’s father succeeds in inventing his shoe spray with their family curse lifted, and both families live a life of financial ease as neighbors.
Absolute Gem of a film all kids must watch after reading the book. Great family film. I only recently realized the lizards used are actually Bearded Dragons, which I think are the cutest, but they sure do look scary in this film. It is the only movie that I enjoyed more than the book. It would be cool to see a sequel with the boys being grown up.
Did you like the boo or the movie better?