Sunday, May 11, 2008

the day i swapped my dad for two goldfish

A big family weekend has left me a little bit tired, and not really up for a Lost Girls post, but unfortunately I haven’t really got anything remarkable to report on from my reading this week. So how about I trawl through the old reliables? Plus it was my Dad’s birthday this week, so with him in mind, I steer you in the direction of a children’s book no bookshelf is complete without.

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish brilliantly takes traditional playground swaps and turns them into a terrific quest, as a boy struggles to recover his father after swapping him for his best friend’s goldfish. Dave McKean’s creepily spiky, textured artwork gives the book a brilliantly surreal edge, setting the reader in a world where someone’s dad can be traded, quite reasonably, for an electric guitar, a gorilla mask or a fat white rabbit. After all, Dad’s don’t do much except sit and read the paper.

It’s funny, daft and beautiful, full of the everyday casual cruelty and affection of sibling relationships and childhood fair-weather friendships. There are tons of opportunities for doing the police in different voices if you read aloud to your children, and much to enjoy and discover in the semi-photographic, collage artwork. The ritualistic nature of the story gives it the familiarity of a fairytale, whilst also maintaining the edge of a joke with a killer punch line. It utilises all the great devices of classic young, folkloric storytelling – repetition, journeys, thwarted expectations and antagonistic forces (i.e.: adults) – and resituates them in a modern, urban setting, thereby retaining its innocence without becoming old-fashioned or staid. There isn’t an extraneous word in the whole book, so in its way, it’s really rather poetic. Ezra Pound would certainly approve. I love this book, and happily fall asleep to my CD of Neil Gaiman reading it aloud – and like all the best bedtime companions, I don’t settle down to the end, I never skip the pages, and pretty soon I think I’m going to know every word by heart.

Plus I love the implicit guilt and attempt at self-justification in the title. He knows it was a mistake, but it’s not like he swapped his Dad for just one goldfish. I mean, c’mon, there were two of them…


At 12 May, 2008 07:04 , Blogger minifig said...

It's a beautiful book, and indeed, one of Mr Gaiman's best, which is certainly saying a lot.

Also, Gaiman spoken word CDs and audiobooks are wonderful - he has one of the best voices in Christendom.

That is all.


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