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The Water’s Fine:
The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 8-12) by David Almond, is reviewed by Hilary Taber.
I knew that when I saw the cover of this book that I would love it. After all, with Oliver Jeffers of The Day the Crayons Quit fame (among many others) how can you go wrong with the illustrations? Yet, this book was so much more than just fantastic illustrations. David Almond has written a wonderful story about families, dreams of greatness, gypsies, and so much more. When Stanley Potts decides that enough is enough when it comes to his financially struggling Uncle Ernie putting his beloved goldfish in a can to sell, he sets out on a course of adventure that will change his life forever.
He decides to join a traveling fair, and he becomes quite attached to the fair’s “Hook-a-duck” proprietor, Mr. Dostoyevsky. All of the people who work at the fair take on Stanley as a sort of second son, but none more than Mr. Dostoyevsky who puts Stanley in change of all goldfish related rewards for winning his booth prizes. Little does Stanley know that his true fate is ready to meet him in the form of Pancho Pirelli, the man who can swim with piranhas! Is Stanley ready to embrace this new path that he feels is right up his alley, or will his aunt and uncle find him at the fair before he is able to decide for himself what his choice will be?
This book was funny, and poignant all at the same time. I found myself charmed by the life of freedom at the fair, and was as pleased as punch when Stanley decides for himself what his life will be. As an added bonus, the villains of the piece are the dastardly DAFT (“Departmint for the Abolishun of Fishy Things”) organization that operates to abolish all things they deem to be suspect. How can Stanley, his uncle, his aunt, Mr. Dostoyevsky, and the Great Pancho Pirelli himself avoid such comically ignorant baddies especially concerned with fish? What really makes these bad guys so very funny is that, of course, their inherent evil nature is caused by ignorance which always leads to poor spelling. I think we all knew that was true, but it’s nice to be reminded to be on your guard when dealing with such folks. Beware the ignorant souls who take justice into their own hands while butchering the English language in the most comical way possible!
What I liked most about David Almond’s writing is that it is full of wonder, imagination and humor. However, Almond never shies away from Stanley’s dilemma of being torn between his family and his extraordinary life at the fair. Family and forgiveness are at the heart of this quirky middle grade novel. This book is perfect for Roald Dahl fans, fans of the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events, and The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. Also, anyone who enjoys a book about the love of pets, particularly fish (I know you’re out there) will deeply identify with Stanley, goldfish aficionado! David Almond’s fantastic book earned starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist. And now, ditto from me.