Readers have come to expect the unexpected from David Almond, the acclaimed winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award. His latest book—the story of a boy whose uncle turns their home into a fish factory—is no exception.
Stanley Potts is happy enough to live with his Uncle Ernie and Aunt Annie after his parents die, that is, until Uncle Ernie begins making more and more machines for his fish canning operation. There are “machines for chopping the heads off, cutting the tails off, getting the guts out; machines for cleaning them and boiling them.” (Not to mention machines for squashing them into cans.) The machines not only take over their house, but their lives. Forget school. Stan must be up at 6 a.m. each day to start work.
Even then, things aren’t so bad until the day Uncle Ernie’s fish obsession crosses the line, and he takes from Stan something bright and precious and scaly (to say more would spoil the suspense). Stan has no choice: he runs away, determined to join the circus, or in this case, the local fair. He signs on to help Mr. Wilfred Dostoyevsky, who runs the Hook-a-duck game with his daughter, Natasha.
Stan’s new life is full of adventure, peril and, as he soon comes to find out, teeth. For Stanley Potts is destined to discover his true destiny: swimming with deadly piranhas.
Will Stanley survive? Will Uncle Ernie see the error of his ways?
To learn the answer, we may just have to consult the fair’s fortune teller, Gypsy Rose. With its quirky humor, fantastical plot and delightful illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas is a perfect book for end-of-summer reading—and a reminder that maybe going to school won’t be as bad as canning fish or swimming with piranhas.
Deborah Hopkinson has written many acclaimed books for children, including The Great Trouble, a novel about London's deadly cholera epidemic, to be published in September.