Friday, June 28, 2013

Fish Finelli: Seagulls don't eat pickles by E. S. Farber, illustrated by Jason Beene

I was prejudiced against this book from the start. First, the cover is so...stereotypical. White kid forefront, fat kid and kid of color obviously the sidekicks. Of course the fat kid is eating, since that's what fat kids do. Then I flipped open the cover and read the author's note, basically saying that they wrote the book because there weren't any books "featuring modern, spirited boy heroes" etc.

Now, this may or may not be true, depending on how you look at it, but I have found in the past that the minute you see the "there are no books like this so I had to write one" it spells danger. On the other hand, Chronicle is a pretty good publisher.

So I read it. And you know what? It's not bad. Not as stunningly unique and wonderful as the publisher claims in their marketing, but not bad. Fish Finelli and his friends are trying to get enough money together to build a boat engine and along the way they run into rich, privileged bullies, a mysterious recluse, buried treasure and a mysterious librarian.

The book includes the average amount of artwork for a beginning chapter book and also has facts woven into the story and included in panels (this, btw, is not a new and daring idea - several other publishers, notably Capstone and Lerner, have been doing this for some time although the literary quality is not always high). It's a nice length - only about 150 pages and the overall adventure/mystery plot is fun.

My main complaint about the book, and why I probably won't buy it, is that just like all the other "they don't write good adventure books for boys so I had to write one" books, there's a distinctly old-fashioned flavor to the story. Lots of stereotypical characters and the plot revolves around the kids being on their own, including sneaking out at night. I live in a small town and while I agree that there are kids out and about on their own all summer, they are not doing anything remotely like this. I could tell you what they are doing, but I've already washed the descriptions off the walls...they wander around, get drinks at the gas station, hang out at the library, and nothing. The kids who would read this book are programmed every second of the day into after school and summer activities and would never be allowed to go off for the whole day on their own without adult supervision.

Of course, there's suspension of belief and the whole mystery/buried treasure plot is obviously a fantasy, but the book's intent of portraying the kids as realistic and then throwing them into a 1950s kids mystery just doesn't work for me.

Verdict: I'll think about this one some more, but I'm probably going to pass on it. Most boys ages 8-12 like more exciting adventure stories, fantasy, and straight nonfiction. I already have several fiction/nonfiction blend series (Doyle and Fossey, CSI Club, Can You Survive...?) and don't feel like I need any more right now.

ISBN: 9781452108209; Published April 2013 by Chronicle; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2013


Ms. Yingling said...

I'm getting tired of the girl ensemble books with four characters: one Asian, one African American, a redhead and a blonde. I liked Fish, but for a little younger than middle school, I think. If kids aren't actually having summer adventures, maybe they want to read about them?

Jennifer said...

Yeah, the ensemble books are a little annoying, especially since the first book is ALWAYS about the white kid. Personally, I think publishers should go over their upcoming books and every time a kid is described as red-headed, they should replace them with a Hispanic kid. Much more realistic and it would solve a lot of the lack of diversity in fun kids books.