From School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-When Stanley Potts's Uncle Ernie takes his fish-canning business in a new, inhumane direction, the orphaned boy decides to leave the home his relatives made for him and join a traveling carnival of Gypsies. With the guidance of the hook-a-duck booth proprietor Dostoyevsky, Stan finds success tending the goldfish prizes and forms a tentative friendship with the boss's prickly daughter, Nitasha, who broods over the desertion of her ballerina mother. Big news is the arrival of famous Pancho Pirelli, who swims in a tank with piranhas. Pirelli is convinced that Stan is destined to be his successor and sets about teaching him to dive, to overcome fear, and to find faith in himself. Meanwhile, as Stan settles into his new life, back home Uncle Ernie and Aunt Annie are distraught over his disappearance and plagued by DAFT, the Departmint for the Abolishun of Fishy Things. Setting out to find him, they unintentionally lead DAFT to the carnival, where mayhem ensues. Master storyteller Almond combines delicious wordplay, zany antics, wacky characters, and a bit of magical realism in a novel that touches the heart. Quick-paced, accessible, and enhanced by stylized cartoonlike drawings, this book is sure to be enjoyed by fans of humorous, quirky stories.-Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Dahl meets J. K., flavored with a soupçon of Choose Your Own Adventure, but in the end, this novel is all pure, sweet Almond. Stanley Potts has lost his parents, but his Aunt Annie and Uncle Ernest have ably stepped in. Then Uncle Ernest goes fish crazy, making a fortune by canning fish in the living room. Stanley is on board until his beloved goldfish get tinned, and he takes off. After joining a carnival, he lives with Mr. Doestesky, the hook-a-duck operator, and his daughter, Nitasha, who has been abandoned by her mother and wishes to become the world’s ugliest, fattest bearded lady. Stanley seems an ordinary boy, but those who come in contact with him sense his purity and goodness. So, when Pancho Pirelli appears to perform his great act in which he swims in a tank of piranhas, it’s no surprise that he recognizes Stanley as his successor. As with most everything Almond writes, there is the story on paper and then all that churns over and around it. This is as much a meditation on chance, choice, and destiny, as it is a frolicsome tale of a boy who runs away for a circuslike life. In the subtlest ways possible, Almond masterfully makes young readers understand this, and they will be delighted that life lessons can be administered so deliciously. Simple pencil drawings illustrate. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Almond is one of the finest writers for young people working today, which makes anything he writes something to look forward to. Grades 4-6. --Ilene Cooper