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The name of this book was enough to convince me to read it. The fact that it was written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean just raises my expectations through the roof. This is a book that follows a typical family, mom, dad, son and daughter, on the day that the son actually managed to swap his dad for a couple of goldfish. We can't blame him, though, his dad pays attention to one thing only: the newspaper. Why does he need him? At least goldfish are cool to look at. But then mom comes home and makes him give the fish back and retrieve his father. How could he do that? How could he ever even consider trading his own father? And his sister, how could she let him? The world isn't never as simple as that, though. The boy to whom he traded his dad quickly understood how useless he is and has already traded him with another. And this other... and the next... The kids spend their day looking for their father, from house to house. It seems that no one finds a use for such a thing as a newspaper reading dad and there is always someone willing to trade, the ones who don't have that dad do believe he must be good for something. In the end (SPOILERS HERE) they find him on a girl's house who left him in her rabbit's former fence, and he's eating a carrot and reading the newspaper. They bring him home and the boy promises he'll never trade his dad again, he understands his dad's value, he must be a very good dad, in order for his mother to be so mad and for him to have to go through so much trouble to retrieve him, newspaper and all. He never promised not to trade his sister though, and she has been threatening to spread some rumours about him around the school so...
The illustration is, as usual from McKean, perfect. Even the lettering here adds to the feeling. The fact that the mother and father are never really characterized - the father never peeks from behind the newspaper - indicates a generalized interpretation is warranted. This story is about any dad, any mom, any children who feel in some way ignored by their parent and obviously answer in the same way, feeling the uselessness of that person in their house, considering how they would be better of with their neighbour's really cool pet, or toy or whatever. Add those details that determine the flow of the story and have the reader look around, such as "said my sister" written below and outside her speech balloons, and you got yourself a really good, fast paced, but also witty and interesting read.
This must be a really fun story to read as a kid or to a kid, but an adult also has something to think about after reading this. Isn't the boy right? From his point of view, how could he not trade dad for the goldfish? And in the end, even if we tell him how important a parent is, does he really understand? Or does he only get that it is forbidden for some reason. It's hard to make children accept these ideas that we take for granted, such as the importance of parents, when we don't show it on a daily basis in a way that they get to feel it for themselves.
This review was originally published on my blog.