The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman is a picture book which tells the exact story of the title of the book. It tells of a young boy and his younger sister who are left by their mother in their father’s care. He never looks up from the newspaper and given his lack of involvement, his son doesn’t think he will be too much missed if he swaps him for his best friend’s two beautiful goldfish.
His little sister is the voice of reason in this book, and warns him that he will be in big trouble when mum gets home. Despite this, the lure of the goldfish is too strong, and the boy reasons that there really isn’t too much to miss, so he might just get away with it.
When mum comes home, his little sister is proved right, and he sets off to try and get his dad back, only to find that his friend was as bored with his dad as he was, and has swapped him for something else. The boy and his sister follow the trail of swapsies to find their father.
The story reminds me of the classic quest sequence folk tales, like the one about the old woman who is trying to take her pig to market, only to find that the pig won’t jump over the stile. She needs a stick to beat the pig, but has to do a favour for the wood so that it will supply the stick, and so on…
This is a contemporary take on this kind of story, and the gentle humour that permeates the whole story, and the surreal nature of the swaps and just the idea of swapping your dad for fish, is particularly joyous. I love the editorial voice of the boy’s sister as she trails along beside the boy. The book is a delight to read. Any cruelty is banished by the fact that both the children obviously love their father, and they are not out to swap him because he is horrible, and indeed, after a long time hunting, it is clear that they are quite happy to have him back.
The illustrations are provided by Gaiman’s long term collaborator, Dave McKean and add a surreal element to the story that really brings it to life and makes it stand out from the standard fare.
The book is suitable for both boys and girls from the age of four to twelve.