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We own this author's first book (I Want My Hat) - which is so brilliant I couldn't wait to buy his next book. My son recently complained that too many of books were "the same". He wanted something truly unique and that is how we found Jon Klassen. I must point out though, that the black humour in these books may not appeal to all children - and in fact may upset some. I usually do not agree with spoilers in book reviews, but I make an exception with children's books where the ending may upset a child. I will clearly separate the spoiler at the end of the review though, so if you prefer not to know how this ends - please stop reading when you reach the spoiler alert warning.
This story is about a small fish who steals a hat from a much larger fish. He is quite pleased with himself, gloating about how he will get away with his crime - but crime doesn't pay and the tiny fish should not antagonise big ones. Tiny fish swims through blackened ocean happily talking to himself about how the big fish will never know what happened, will never find him etc.... All the while big fish is swimming behind getting closer and closer, building up suspense as the story moves along. The big fish certainly looks very angry!
This has an absolutely delightful deadpan humour. My children are ages 4 and 7, and although my 7 year old rarely reads picture books anymore, he did enjoy this - and I have to admit - so did I. The illustrations are striking as well. I very much like the black water as opposed to traditional blue. It adds to the uniqueness of this book. The overall dark tones of the illustrations suit the dark them of the book quite well. It also a nice book to discuss the morality of taking things that do not belong to you with children.
But in addition to being a brilliant story certain to entice reluctant readers, this book, is a wonderful resource for reading instruction. The early readers by Dr Seuss were limited to 250 words. This book uses only 92 and almost all of these are extremely easy to read words, which would be on the same list the Dr Seuss books were drawn from. Most of the words are common one syllable words, easily sounded out with phonics and familiar to most children such as "hat", "fish", "big" and "small". The most challenging words in this book were "probably" and " worried" but if a child can read the rest of the book they can easily learn two new words for one book. In addition, the text is in a very large clear black font, on a white background with good spacing in between lines, making it ideal for new readers or children with dyslexia. Most pages only have one or two short sentences - this would make the ideal reading primer and it is ever so much more fun than Peter and Jane. It's high interest level and slightly wicked wit will appeal to older children as well, making this the perfect book for children who are reading below age level. This really is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages.
If you do enjoy this book - I must suggest you try "I Want My Hat" as well which is even easier to read with only 68 words.
My children ( ages 4 and 7) both enjoyed this but the older one got more out of the humour. It does seem to lose something with too many reading though, and this book has never quite made it as a favourite, read night after night. Instead it is read the odd time - for a change of pace. Even so, I am giving this 5 stars. My major reason for doing so is that books like this, that are so easy to read, and yet can appeal to much older children are hard to come by. I think this is a wonderful book for reading instruction - it just happens that neither of my sons are at the correct reading level for this. My oldest is so far ahead of this reading level, but my 4 year is not reading at all. I believe this book will be perfect when he does start reading though. I also believe this book is very good for my older son to help him learn to use expression in reading - in this case a gloating tone as Tiny fish boasts about his crime. Finally, I like this book simply because it is very different from the majority of books on the shelf. I love books that break the mould, and provide something new and different. I think books like this are especially important for many boys, who often take a sickener from the standard sugary sweet children's tales.
****************************SPOILER ALERT ******************************
If you do not wish to know how this story ends - please stop reading now. I am including this, because some children will find it very amusing, but others may be quite upset. We do not actually see the tiny fish get his just desserts - or if you'll pardon the pun become just dessert. We see the little fish swim into dense forest of kelp saying "Nobody will ever find me" - but the very large fish is right behind him. next we see two blank pages - showing only kelp and then the big fish swimming away. The books ends with the large fish sleeping again, and looking very content with the small hat on his head.
My oldest caught on immediately and burst into laughter. It took a moment for the penny to drop with my youngest. They didn't have too much sympathy for the small fish because he was very bad to steal - and they do understand that it isn't real. But I am sure some children would be upset by the ending - however - since it isn't actually shown - you could tell a more sensitive child that the big fish only took his hat back - and perhaps told the small fishes parents and got him in big trouble.