Author: David Almond
Publication Date: August 2013
Audience: Grades 5-8
Summary: Stanley Potts’s uncle and guardian, Ernie, is obsessed with canning fish, but when Uncle Ernie’s obsession takes an unexpectedly cruel turn, Stanley has no choice but to leave. He leaves the life he’s always known and hires on as Mr. Dostoyevsky’s assistant at a traveling carnival. It is there where he meets the legendary Pancho Pirelli, the man who swims with piranhas. Mr. Pirelli declares that he, Stanley, should be his assistant and train to swim with the piranhas.
Literary elements at work in the story: Using a freewheeling style, Almond uses humor, quiet reflection and the magic of ordinary life to bring us a novel that will linger for a long time. He finds mystery in the boring and magic in everyday life. He sees what we all miss in our day to day life.
How do the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story: This story stands on its own relying on motivation rather than gender or race. He uses the perspective of the marginal, the defeated, the odd, the off-key to show us something about the world we live in.
Theological Conversation Partners: Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Stanley has run away from a life he can no longer lead. He needs to, like the writer of Philippians says, think about where he can find a life that is true, noble and right. He finds it in Mr. Dostoyevsky. That is until Mr. Pirelli comes to the carnival and tests Stanley’s lovely world by telling him his destiny is to swim with the piranhas. Can he do it? Should he do it? Is it true for him? Swimming with the piranhas is certainly praise worthy, but is it excellent? Stanley needs to think on these things, but at times like this it can be hard to see what is right for us. It is at times like this we need to keep our eyes and hearts open to what Christ has told us, to act from love. The writer of Philippians gives us a quite a list of things to think about, but think on them we must if we are to find our path in life. Mr. Almond says of the characters in the story, “….the hearts of these people, despite all their troubles and all their faults and failings, are good and true” Look for people like Stanley, people who are good not because of who they are, but because they just are and you we will find the life Christ has called for you .
Faith Talk Questions:
- Have you ever had anyone you loved do something to hurt your feelings?
- Why do you think Stanley was so taken with the fish?
- Is Mr. Dostoyevsky like anyone you know?
- Who do you know (alive, dead or someone from fiction) who is true, noble, pure or praiseworthy?
- At the end of the book Mr. Almond asks you to tell what happens to the characters. How would you end the book?
- Who in the book did you admire the most and why?
- Do you think living the way the author of Philippians says would be hard or easy?
- How do you decide what/who is true, noble, right, pure, excellent, or praiseworthy?
This review was written by regular contributor Janet Lloyd.