Chicken House is a children’s publisher that is, thankfully, going from strength to strength. The books I’ve read from their publishing list always tend to be a little out of the ordinary, which I enjoy. When I saw The Fish in Room 11 by Heather Dyer, it looked like it might be perfect for my transitional reading groups, and I snapped it up.
I have to say that I was right.
The short chapters, beautiful line drawn illustrations and decent font size mean that this is a book I know my chosen readers will handle without being daunted by what I’ve given them.
The story is also rather lovely. Which always helps.
It tells the story of a young boy called Toby, who lives in a run down hotel with the Harris family. Toby was discovered in the hotel as an abandoned baby, and Mr. Harris agreed to keep him on the grounds that Toby, when he was old enough would basically be a slave. If Mr. Harris could have put Toby up the chimneys to clean them, he would have.
Toby lives in the attic, wearing only his pyjamas, day in, day out, and not even having shoes and socks. Despite this he is quite cheerful and has lots of friends at the hotel who protect him from the worst excesses of Mr. Harris’ behaviour.
One day, when he is down at the beach, Toby meets a mermaid by accident. She seems to recognise him, and takes him to a cave under the pier, to meet her parents. The Flots are a delightfully eccentric family, and welcome Toby with open arms.
They give Toby a ring to remember them by when he goes back to the hotel. Mr. Harris spots it and realises that it is some long lost treasure that went down with a sinking ship many years ago. Mr. Harris wants to use Toby to track down the treasure and bring himself fame and fortune. Toby wants to protect the Flots.
The rest of the adventure unfurls from there.
The dynamic between the characters is lovely. It is a nice, redemptive story in which everyone gets their just desserts and even the baddy isn’t quite as bad as he could be. It’s funny, and sweet and has just the right amount of suspense to keep children turning the pages.
I would recommend it to boys and girls aged 6-10. It would be a lovely book to work with in schools, and its shortness means it is ideal for a shared reading experience or story time that would fit into term’s project on the seaside, or mythical creatures for example.