Review: The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas

The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas by David Almond and Oliver Jeffers (ill.). 9780763661694. 2013. Gr. 4-7.

One of the standard questions grownups always ask children is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The question gets kids to think about their future aspirations and goals, and perhaps gives adults the opportunity to have them think about any obstacles that may get in their way as well.  In The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, Stan Potts finds that he has a talent, but just needs to overcome his fears, harness some confidence, and literally jump in with both feet.

Stan is an innocent, heart-of-gold orphan who lives with his kind-hearted aunt and hardworking uncle. Life is pretty good for Stan, as he likes working in the business his uncle runs, but his uncle is laser-focused on the business and tends to neglect Stan’s emotional needs.  When Stan’s uncle makes a very poor decision that devastates Stan, our young protagonist leaves home and hooks up with a traveling carnival, helping to run a game booth.

Odd and eccentric characters abound in Almond’s tale, including a villainous, dimwitted, overzealous investigator who is intent on shutting down Stan’s uncle’s business and ridding the community of all “fishiness and daftness”.  The storylines of Stan’s carnival adventure, his aunt and uncle, and the villain’s pursuit of Stan’s family all converge in an ending where Stan fulfills his destiny and makes the reader believe that anything is possible.

A word of warning here…this book is very “British”.  There are a lot of commonly British words and sayings (Oxfam shop, quay, quid, wakey-wakey, etc.) that kids may not be able to “translate”.  In addition, the villain speaks in a way that conveys his lack of intelligence, which is consequently hard to interpret at times.  However, as I was reading this book, I kept thinking how much fun this would be to read aloud to kids (especially if you can pull off a bit of a British accent!).

At its heart, this is a book about finding your own way in the world, forging ahead despite uncertainty, and becoming something great.  Read this one aloud to kids that are fans of Roald Dahl or Lemony Snicket.  Or those that appreciate a good British accent!

Ryan H.Blogger: Ryan H.