Title: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Dave McKean
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Realistic (?) Fiction
Themes: General Silliness
Age Range: 1st through 5th Grade
The narrator of this silly story desperately wants his best friend's two goldfish. So desperately, in fact, that he trades his father for them. (His father wasn't that interesting anyway-all he ever did was read the newspaper.) His little sister tries to tell him that it's a bad idea, but he doesn't listen. When his mother comes home, she is understandably furious, and sends him on a journey to retrieve poor old dad. Of course, Dad's now been traded to a string of friends for a variety of interesting items. Finally, the narrator tracks down his father, sitting in a chicken coop-reading the paper!
Full disclosure: Neil Gaiman could probably transpose the phone book and I would love it. I have yet to meet one of his books-children's or adult-that I didn't want to gobble up with a spoon. It is therefore no surprise that I adored this charming picture book.
The story is simple enough. What brings it to life is the interplay between the narrator and his younger sister. She is dryly hilarious in a way no small person probably ever is in real life, but authenticity is not exactly what this story is going for. There were a couple of points that I found laugh-out-loud funny, and you don't often find that in a picture book meant for children.
McKean's illustrations are darkly engaging, and they fit perfectly with the mood that Gaiman creates with his storytelling. As always with Gaiman's books, there is a certain level of darkness present, but unlike some of his longer fiction for children it is not scary. As an anglophile, the fact that the book is littered with British turns of phrase only added to the appeal, and provide good opportunities for conversation with kids about the difference in language. The story structure is fairly straightforward, and there isn't a ton of depth there to mine for good discussion, but it is a funny story that I think kids would like, and could certainly be used for working on sequencing, plot structure, or examining how the illustrations enhance comprehension. Overall, a solid choice as a read aloud for elementary age kids.
Diana Wagner Lesson Plan (scroll down)
Oh, Boy, Fourth Grade Writing Unit for The Day I Swapped My Dad...