- The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond
When Stanley Potts' guardian uncle cans—literally—all but one of the beautiful goldfish Stanley has rescued from a carnival stall, Stanley runs away from home with the goldfish survivor in tow. He joins up with the kind owner of the stall, Dostoyevsky, who lets Stanley take care of the goldfish. Stanley then discovers his destiny when the mysterious Pancho Pirelli, who swims with piranhas, joins the fair; it seems Stanley may share Pirelli's gift for gliding among the toothy fish unscathed. This has some of the fantasy quality of a Roald Dahl novel but without the dark heart that lies at the core of many of Dahl's works. Almond's narrative is both quirky and dreamlike, and the kindness of many of the characters propels it forward with positive energy. The present-tense narration is sometimes lyrical ("He looks into the sky and into the universe. He imagines it going on forever and forever to the stars, and way beyond the stars, and way beyond the stars beyond the stars, and he knows that his wondering and wondering will never have an end"), sometimes straightforward or confiding, and the combination of these styles is surprisingly effective. Almond has a deft touch with the moonlight and mysticism, allowing readers to linger a bit in the mystery but at the same time unspooling the tale's trajectory purposefully and thoughtfully. Jeffers' frequent and slightly offbeat monochromatic illustrations are well matched to Almond's whimsical text. Middle-grade fans of Almond and those who appreciate Dahl's imagination but prefer a gentler read will find this fish story a real catch.