We hear over and over and again that boys can’t read or boys don’t read. The fact is that the gender gap in literacy is growing, and far too many boys do fail to achieve basic literacy skills. There are 101 solutions, if not more, but the most effective is to get boys reading for pleasure. Boys who enjoy reading read more, boys who read more, become better readers and those who have better literacy skills will enjoy reading more making it a very productive circle. But how do we get boys to really enjoy reading in the first place? We need books that boys really want to read, especially as they make that crucial transition from pictures books to chapter books. Educators, publishers and parents are all beginning to see the need for truly boy friendly literature and there are more books on market for boys than ever before, but there is still a gap in my opinion, in truly exceptional books for young boys, ages 6 -12. There are a few brilliant series for this age group, Horrid Henry for the younger readers, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Astrosaurs, and the newer editions of Horrible Histories with an easier to read, larger print for slightly older readers, but not nearly enough. So it was with absolute surprise and delight that we discovered a new author of this caliber.
‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ is not a book that an adult would read unless they have children. This is a book written for children, and Mo O’Hara certainly has a very clear idea of what children like. This has none of the hallmarks of a first foray into fiction; O’Hara jumps right in with the confidence of a master. A bit of research shows she has in fact had time to perfect her craft, as a storyteller with live audiences where the immediate feedback would have shown what the children wanted to hear – and what they didn’t. She has obviously perfected the art of storytelling for children before beginning her first book.
‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ has everything boys love – a mad scientist, a computer hacker, a zombie (even if it just a goldfish) and huge helpings of humour. It all begins when Tom’s evil brother gets a science set. Mark gets the very cruel idea of using toxic chemicals to kill a fish as a science experiment. Tom however, is a much kinder child and desperate to save this creature. His best friend Pradeep joins him and the results are hilarious. They don’t quite manage to rescue the fish before it dies – but they do manage to bring it back to life – as a super intelligent, slightly undead zombie goldfish with some incredible powers. But they still have to keep the fish, now named Frankie, safe from both their evil older brothers. As if Mark wasn’t bad enough on his own, he is joined by Pradeep’s evil computer hacker brother, Sanj who has just been expelled from boarding school. Besides protecting the fish from their evil older brothers, they must protect their brothers from the fish as well. Frankie has an evil streak where his previous tormentor is concerned and it soon extends to Sanj as well. As if this were not enough, the evil geniuses soon have a plan at world domination – well perhaps not world domination, but an evil and insidious plan nonetheless. Only Frankie, Tom and Pradeep can save the day – with a bit of help from Pradeep’s little sister and an army of dinner ladies.
My oldest son read this first, and I knew he was enjoying the book when I caught him awake in the middle of the night reading with a torch. I asked him the next morning how much he liked it and he said it was brilliant – and the best part was there was a sequel would I buy it for him? I was surprised how much he seemed to enjoy it, so asked him to compare it to his very favourite series and nearly choked on my tea when he said it was slightly better. Better? I’ve been searching for months for anything that even compared to the other series. I sat the tea cup down and logged onto Amazon immediately to buy the sequel. This brings me to my one and only complaint with this book. There is one misprint. The back page says the sequel will be available in July 2012. But this book was only published in February of 2013. I did check online and it appears the sequel is due for July 2013. I just hope it comes out on time.
My son really did love this book. The character of Frankie has just the right blend of good and evil. He says the best part is where the fish goes through all sorts of pipes. I don’t quite see what is so exciting about this, but as he came running into room after we were all in bed to tell me about it I gather he finds it brilliant. And of course what I think doesn’t really matter – what matters is how the children react to this. This book really is so good, I have started reading it to my 4 year old as well. It is written for older children, but there is nothing in this to make it unsuitable for little ones. This book is meant to be for children reading on their own, and it is excellent for this. The print is large enough and well spaced, there are plenty of very good illustrations, and this is quite an easy book for a a child who is just developing confidence with chapter books. It is interesting enough to keep an older, more confident reader going as well, although I wouldn’t really recommend this much past age 12. But it is also a brilliantly funny book for sharing with a younger child, perhaps as a first introduction to chapter books. I would very strongly recommend this book for ages 4 – 12. If the child is able to read on their own – then wonderful – this is just the thing to make them want to read more. If they are not quite old enough to read it themselves, then read it to them. It is books like this that make a child want to learn to read so they can enjoy stories like this whenever they want. The simple fact is – when boys discover books this good – boys do read.
Read the review online here.