Carl Hiaasen is probably best known for his crime novels written for adults, but he has written a handful of books for the teen/YA market too, of which Chomp is one.
I was given a copy of Chomp for review purposes a couple of years ago. I absolutely loved it, and since then have read it on numerous occasions to children in schools. It never fails to delight them. I do not know a single child who has disliked this book.
I started reading it to my own children two weeks ago, and we have already finished it. They have literally clamoured for the book every evening, and tonight, with forty pages left to the end, I was required to read until my voice was hoarse in order to finish it for them.
It tells the story of a boy called Wahoo Cray and his father Mickey. Mickey is a successful animal wrangler working in Florida. All is well until he is hit on the head by a frozen iguana and is too ill to work. With the threat of their house being repossessed, Mickey and Wahoo are forced to take on work with Derek Badger, one of televisions most famous survivalists, who is, in reality absolutely hopeless and a screaming prima donna who is a nightmare to work with.
Things are further complicated when Wahoo and Mickey take in one of Wahoo’s school mates, a girl called Tuna, who has run away from her drunken, abusive father, and who ends up accompanying them on their trip to the Everglades to act as animal wranglers for Derek in the wild.
The book has its serious moments. Hiaasen is very knowledgeable about the ecology of the Everglades and the disasters that man has introduced that will upset its fragile eco system. He does not shy away from issues like parental abuse either, but all of these are handled in a way that works well with the narrative arc of the book and is not too terrible for a child reader to handle.
The main thing that saves the book in these instances is the humour with which the book is written. It is laugh out loud funny in many places throughout, and the episodes with Derek Badger are an absolute delight to read, they are so silly. These moments, and the sections of book which focus on the animals and their behaviour are the bits of the narrative which work the best for children, and they clamour for more.
The story is well written with the multiple plot lines interweaving and criss crossing so that the reader is always left on a cliff hanger and wanting more. The final scenes in the book wrap everything up nicely, even though, at times, it might seem like the stories will never quite come together.
I recommend the book for children aged 8 to 14, boys and girls. I have had particularly fantastic responses from boys when I’ve been reading this out loud in classroom situations, and if you are dealing with reluctant readers, this might be one of those books that provides you with an in.
This is a standalone book by Hiaasen, but there are others that he has written for children, along the same lines. Chomp is my favourite, but Hoot is also an excellent read, and it is what my children have elected to hear next.