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I blogged about Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems here, and my first experience of reading a Little Gems book here.

I was so impressed with them, I wondered if they would be able to sustain the things I love about them?

The simple answer is, yes.

The-Fish-in-the-Bathtub

My second experience was of reading The Fish in the Bathtub by Eoin Colfer.

Colfer is perhaps better known for his Artemis Fowl series for older readers. Certainly a prolific author, this however, is the first picture book by him I have read. I loved it, and I note that Barrington Stoke have at least one more Little Gem by him. I will most definitely be getting it after reading this.

As with the previous book I read, production quality is high. The paper is nice and thick, and easy for small hands to turn pages. The book is still printed on cream rather than white paper, to make reading easier for children who struggle with dyslexia. The font is large and simple, so that letters are easier to distinguish from each other. There is plenty of space on each page, between words, and lines and around the text, with fewer lines per page, so a child can easily orient themselves.

The illustrations, by Peter Bailey are lovely. I have no recollection of having seen Bailey’s work before, but he reminds me of a cross between Ian Beck and Shirley Hughes. His work is detailed and beautiful.

The book is about A5 sized, and chunky, like a cut down novel. It also consists of short chapters, which is unusual in a picture book. I wonder if this is a conscious decision by the publisher to get children used to the idea of moving on to novels? If so, it’s a brilliant one.

Colfer’s story tells about the relationship between a young girl called Lucja and her grandfather. They live in Poland during the time of communist rule. Grandfather also remembers Hitler’s invasion, and spent three years in a prison camp under Nazi rule.

At the time of the story, food rationing is still in place. Christmas is fast approaching, and grandfather decides that he is sick of being told what he can and can’t eat. He decides to buy a carp on the black market, and indulge himself with a traditional Polish feast. He will have fish for Christmas.

When the carp arrives, it is alive. They must keep it in the bathtub until they are ready to kill and eat it.

There is only one problem. Lukja falls in love with the carp.

What will grandfather do?

The story has serious moments, moments for thought and discussion. It is also funny and playful and charming.

It is perfect for children, both boys and girls aged 5-9 in my opinion. You could go younger if you either have very precocious children or you’re happy to blip over a lot of the details/ideas that make this book so thoughtful and interesting. It is a book that is bursting with things to say and stuff to unpack. It would be an excellent book to use in a school setting for this very reason.

Barrington Stoke have banded the book as a 6 years plus for reading age, and five to eight years in terms of interest. Depending on context I think you could go higher with interest levels, but that would probably be with supervised or guided reading rather than as a read alone book.

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