by David Almond
Oliver Jeffers, illustrator
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?
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
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by David Almond website blog facebook twitter
Released August 6, 2013
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
DONATED TO LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY OR SCHOOL
- Children’s fiction prize book club: The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond and Oliver Jeffers (theguardian.com)
- Ode to Oliver Jeffers (jenwrightwrites.wordpress.com)