It takes a mighty fine storyteller to turn a wooly worm race into a page turning adventure, but that’s exactly what Betty Hicks does in The Worm Whisperer. Fifth grade class clown Ellis has a serious side. Dad needs back surgery, as well as $1,000 for the insurance deductible. Mom is working three jobs to pay the bills. Ellis takes care of dad, the chores, and their blueberry crop. The prize at the Annual Wooly Worm Festival Worm Race contest is $1,000. Ellis knows a horse whisperer, who tells him her secret: speak to the animal from your heart. Speaking from the heart is tough work for Ellis, but worth the try to help pay dad’s insurance; so Ellis becomes a worm whisperer.
Ellis’ worm, Tink, responds every time he speaks to her from his heart. She responds so well, he takes her to church to expose her to crowds. She “dances” in the pew, and marches up someone’s leg. When he takes her to school, his class clown status results in a fight, a chase, and the near death of Tink. Well into her training, and two days before the race, Tink disappears – possibly inside the cat. When class clown Ellis tells his friends from his heart what the race meant to him, they rally behind him and he is able to enter a new worm, Belle.
The race, a series of three elimination rounds, is described in breathless detail. Belle is a champ, but poops out (literally) in the third round. Belle and Ellis lose the third race, and the $1,000, but win at some of life’s greatest lessons. Semi spoiler: dad gets his operation after all. Surprising fact: there really is an Annual Wooly Worm Festival every October, in Banner Elk, North Carolina. This quick read is an excellent read-aloud.