next…and he told me about this book, How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell,” remembers Johnson.
“I had never read it and all of my friends said ‘you'll love this book,’ ‘my son is reading it,’ ‘it was really important to me growing up,’ ‘that's so much fun,’ and so on. So, I read it and loved the spirit of it and the message of it,” explains Johnson. “It’s really a wonderful tale of youthful energy and has a whole sense about being who you are. All of the messages were right, but it was in a package that is a lot of fun.”
“It’s a timeless tale of growing up that uses a very gross and interesting device, the worms, to make its point,” adds producer Philip Steuer. “Ultimately, I think it’s about a bully and a new kid coming to town and what that kid has to go through to be accepted. That’s kind of what everybody may have felt at a certain time in their life. The fact that these little creepy, crawly things help sell that point and help these kids get past their insecurities, is really pretty interesting.”
Johnson and Dolman began working together towards making the film and Dolman found new inspiration to expand on the tale. “I was also drawn to the story because it felt like a war story in which there weren’t really any of the dangers of war,” says Dolman. “But there are all the emotions that go with being in a battle: fear, doubt, wondering if you’re going to survive, questions of integrity, fighting fairly and standing up for what you believe in. Also, behind the dare is Billy’s own bravado. He comes to discover that he’s really got to rise to the occasion and back up his own beliefs with actions.”
The story weaves multiple themes, including acceptance, forgiveness, friendship, and not judging by first impressions, into a tale involving the culinary delights of earthworms. But for Dolman, courage and joy are the ideas that stand out above the others.
The director chose to amplify the theme of courage in the movie. “This boy comes to school and he gets involved with these other boys on a bet and in order to follow through on it, he has to be brave,” explains Dolman. “Behind any bet, there is a question of whether or not you can meet the challenge, so that does suggest an act of courage.”