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The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond

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.

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, Candlewick Press

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.


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A Truly Colorful Crayon Tale

51E7nP9Xi-L._SX225_Hitting shelves this June is The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books; $17.99; ages 3-8). Reviewer Rita Zobayan couldn’t peel herself away!

Art comes to life in the delightful new picture book. Duncan simply wants to color, but a stack of 12 letters in his school desk reveals that his crayons have feelings and opinions on not only his use of color, but also on their own relationships with each other. Poor Pink is tired of being relegated as only a “girls’ color” and demands usage! Green is quite content with its lot in life, but is worried about other crayons. Blue is appreciative, but exhausted from coloring oceans and skies. And, boy-oh-boy, will your child laugh out loud when Peach’s dilemma is revealed!

Humor, imagination, and a great sense of children’s language combine to make up the content of the letters, and each letter is cleverly illustrated in a child’s handwriting style. Here is Red Crayon’s communication to Duncan:

Hey Duncan,

It’s me, Red Crayon. We NEED to talk. You make me work harder than any of your other crayons. All year long I wear myself out coloring fire engines, apples, strawberries and EVERYTHING ELSE that’s RED. I even work on holidays! I have to color all the Santas at Christmas and all the hearts on Valentine’s Day! I NEED A REST!

                  Your overworked friend,

Red Crayon

Meanwhile, Yellow and Orange are feuding! Yellow states that Duncan needs to “tell Orange Crayon that I am the color of the sun…” and Orange fires back that Duncan should “please tell Mr. Tattletale that he IS NOT the color of the sun.” Both have coloring book evidence to prove their claims! What is Duncan to do?!

TheDaytheCrayonsQuit_interior_19The illustrations are spot on: you really believe that you’re looking at a child’s art. They creatively capture each of the crayons’ dilemmas—even Purple’s assertion that if Duncan doesn’t “start coloring inside the lines soon…I am going to COMPLETELY LOSE IT.”

The Day the Crayons Quit is a great read, and artist or not, children will delight in the humorous premise and colorful artwork.

For other Oliver Jeffers books, click here. Click the titles for our reviews of Stuck and This Moose Belongs to Me.

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Oh How I Wish I Had a Pet Moose

Debbie Glade weighs in on this new picture book by Oliver Jeffers about a boy and his pet moose.

Adorable, delightful, darling, sweet, charming – these are all synonyms for the word, cute. This Moose Belongs to Me ($16.99, Penguin Young Readers, Ages 3-7) is indeed all the above. Can you tell I thoroughly enjoyed this picture book? I promise you will, too.

Wilfred is your average boy with a pet moose he names, Marcel. (As if it is normal to have a pet moose, never mind one named Marcel.) Wilfred really enjoys Marcel’s company, and like most boys with a pet, Wilfred lays down some rules. The problem is that, well moose don’t really follow rules too well. Do they? One day, Wilfred and Marcel stumble upon a woman who claims the moose belongs to her. This sets off a series of unfortunate events for Wilfred as he gets himself into quite a pickle when he and his pet get separated. Will Wilfred ever see Marcel again? Will Marcel save the day? Will Marcel follow Wilfred’s rules once and for all? Read this terrific book and find out for yourself, because I refuse to spoil the outcome for you.

This book was written and illustrated by the very talented Oliver Jeffers, and his wonderful illustrations suit the story to a T.  This Moose Belongs to Me is a perfect example of what an excellent picture book should be – original, interesting, engaging, surprising, cleverly written and beautifully illustrated. Plus it teaches kids the great lesson that we can’t really “own” others.

By the way, Oliver Jeffers happens to be the author and illustrator of quite a few other books including one I reviewed and loved called, Stuck. I am already wondering when his next book comes out because I cannot wait.

Please note the release date of this title is November 8, 2012 – just in time for a perfect holiday gift for a special child in your life.

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You’re Sure to get “Stuck” on this Picture Book

Reviewed by Debbie Glade, STUCK is storybook you’ll want to keep around. It’s due to be published Nov. 11, 2011, so mark your calendars!

Why read a run-of-the-mill picture book when you can read an utterly adorable, whimsically illustrated and wonderfully entertaining book like Stuck ($16.99, Philomel, ages 3-7), by Oliver Jeffers? As soon as I saw the darling cover of this book, I just had to open it up. I must confess that part of the allure for me is that when my daughter was about two years old, she loved to say, “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!” Now she’s 19, but I know this book would still put a smile on her face.

So Stuck is about a boy named Floyd, who got his kite stuck up in a tree.  That may not sound all that exciting at first, but wait until you see the methods Floyd uses to try to get his kite out of the tree and the bigger mess he creates while trying to solve his dilemma. This is one of those cozy books you read to your child at bedtime over and over again, while admiring the illustrations and giggling throughout the story. Both you and your child will also enjoy the childlike font used in the book.

Author Oliver Jeffers (originally from Belfast) is a mega-talented author and illustrator who has won numerous awards for his various children’s books. With books as awesome as this one,  it’s no wonder why.

As for me, I’m sending my copy to my daughter in college, just to bring back some happy memories of her early years.

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