#402 – The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond

boy swam with piranhas..

The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas

by David Almond

Oliver Jeffers, illustrator

Candlewick Press

4 Stars

Inside Jacket:  Since all the jobs on the quayside disappeared, Stan’s Uncle Ernie has developed an extraordinary fascination with canning fish.  Overnight, life at 69 Fish Quay Lane has turned barmy.  But when Uncle Ernie’s madcap obsession takes an unexpectedly cruel turn, Stan must leave home to make his own way in the world.  And what a world!  Venturing farther and farther from the life he knows, Stan finds a fairground and a whimsical array of new friends, including the world-famous Pancho Pirelli—a fishy legend! a piscatorial genius!—the man who swims with piranhas.  Will Stan, too, be bold enough to dive into the churning waters and choose his own destiny?

Opening:  Here’s a question. How would you like it is somebody in your house—your uncle Ernie, for instance—decided to turn it into a fish-canning factory?  How would you like it if there were buckets of pilchards and tubs of mackerel everywhere you looked?

combo 1

About the Story: Stan is living with his aunt and uncle and all is well until Uncle Ernie loses his job.  Ernie gets idea for making money and becomes a bit obsessed, as he takes over more and more of the home.  One day Uncle Ernie hurts Stan in an unforgivable manner and Stan moves out.  He goes down to the carnival and eventually finds himself in the employ of Mr. Dostoyevsky, the famous “Hook a Duck” master.  Stan finds he loves the carnival and his work.

There are many different people working at the carnival but none more interesting to Stan than Pancho Pirelli, the famous man who, before your very eyes, swims with piranhas.  They even dance together.  Stan is mesmerized and wants to swim with piranhas.

After an intense argument with Mr. Dostoyevsky about Stan’s best interests and safety, Pancho takes Stan under his wing.  Will Stan dive into a tank filled with ferocious piranhas?  Will Stan try to dance with these shark-like mouthed fish?


What I Thought:  I enjoyed The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas.  The story has wonderful humor and quirkiness kids will like.  Stan is lonely living with his aunt and uncle until he finds a bucket full of companions.  Stan is like only children who cling to an object—say a doll—to help wash the loneliness away.  Uncle Ernie gets rid of his companions—and in a most horrid way—leaving Stan to decide he cannot take his uncle’s obsession any longer.  Stan goes for a walk.  He never returns.  Stan is at the “I can’t take it any more” stage.  Stan breaks free, something we all do at some point in our life, and goes on his own.  He finds his first job with the “Hook a Duck” master of the carnival.  All day he washes plastic ducks and prepares fishing lines for customers.

Stan reminded me of my first job, the feeling of independence, meeting new people, and the tediousness of the job, yet I loved it.  Most every first job is like this, though many may not have quirky people, as does Stan’s, which makes his experience funnier.  The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas is a story of growing up.  Stan feels alone, takes a first job, falls for his first girl, becomes enamored with an idol, and takes chances he normally would not.  Most of us go through a good many of those, some maybe all.


The characters each have distinctive voices and characteristics, some unforgettable.  Stan matures from a kid sleeping under a counter to a man making his own decisions.  The ending asks the read many questions and takes a twist while waiting for the answers.  It is a most different way to end a story, which never really ends.  No, this is not, to my knowledge, a series. Stan’s story, and those of the other characters, simply does not stop with the end of the book, the end of its telling.  This is what the author tells us.

The book completely leaves out an ending to the villain.  What happens to him?  So, the biggest missing element is a complete, gelled ending.  The author also has a habit of breaking into the story with asides, that are sometimes funny and worth the time, while others are more irritation than prose.  The story did have my attention from first word to its last.  Kids looking for a good read, with quirky characters, strange surroundings, and many laughs will enjoy The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas


ALA Best Book for Young Adults

International Reading Association Children’s Choice

National Council of Teachers of English Notable Children’s Book in the Language Arts

Junior Library Guild Selection

Short-list for the Late Greenway Medal

Starred Kirkus Review



The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas

by David Almond     website    blog    facebook    twitter

Oliver Jeffers, illustrator    website    blog    facebook    twitter

Candlewick Press     website    g+    facebook    twitter

Released  August 6, 2013

ISBN:  978-0-7636-6169-4

256 pages

Ages:  9 to 12


© 2013 by Candlewick Press, used with permission

Test copyright © 2013 by David Almond

Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Oliver Jeffers

Candlewick Press in part of the Walkers Books Group





sleeping piranhas


17 thoughts on “#402 – The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond

    • It is, but it works . . . except that ending. I still don’t get it. 😦 The author likes to interject a lot and this was one time it didn’t work for me. If you read it I would love to know what you think about the ending.


    • Why do you asy this? It is not that I read fast. I still read like I did in college: three books at a time. I wish I could speed read. I wish I could speed write! 🙂 Thanks for being here. I know you have a lot of writing to do yourself. {When you are ready, I would love to announce the grand unveiling.}


      • Sue, you are such a sweetheart! At the rate I’m going, I’m spending all my computer time reading great blog posts, reviews (yours!) and posting! I can’t help myself! I MUST get control or there will BE no unveiling lol Then, of course, life does have a way of getting in the way, too! *sigh*


  1. readingwithrhythm, it was also Oliver Jeffers that made me interested in hearing about the book! lol Piranhas don’t usually attract me and I would think this was a boy’s book, so I know I wouldn’t be inclined to pick it up. I tend to pick up books that seem neutral to me. Oliver Jeffers illustrated the BRILLIANT book written by Drew Daywalt. I can’t wait to see what other books Drew comes up with 🙂


    • I don’t classify this as a boy book. Girls will love the quirky characters and themes. This is a strange but loveable book. I think you will like it. 🙂 I have not heard of Drew Daywalt but am now interested. It’s Google time!

      I heard about “The Day the Crayon Quit.” It is on the NY Best Sellers List. I have not read it but would love to review it. Maybe once all these new Fall releases are finished I’ll get a hold of it. 🙂


      • Oh, you must! You MUST! That book is NOT to be missed! 😀 Simply put: it’s about a boy who loves to color, finds a pile of envelopes addressed to him. They are written, individually, by each color crayon—with their individual gripes. Hilarious!


  2. How intriguing. A book without an ending. Lol. It sounds so interesting, especially when a traditionally published book breaks the rules lol
    I want to read it after your review.


    • I’m not sure what the author was thinking. The ending becomes rather existential (which I hadn’t thought of till now), and he has taken some raps for leaving it this way. I have never read an “ending” that wants me to decide what might have happened. I think his point was the characters will live on. ??? I loved the story, it was super, but the ending was weird Still, I recommend it. 🙂 Let me know what you think..


    • Mr. Jeffers has done some quirky characters in his illustrations. Quirky seems to be “In” this year. The story of the displaced Stan, meeting up with a bunch of quirky characters at a traveling carnival, then meeting the superstar of traveling acts, Pancho Pirelli, he of swimming with piranhas fame changes everyone’s life, for the better. You would love it. I would love to know what you think after reading it. 🙂


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