Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Lynn: I confess that since coming home from the Newbery deliberations I have been indulging myself shamelessly and have been reading for pure fun!  I haven’t taken a single note, searched for deeper meaning or examined the use of literary elements.  Glorious!  One of the  fun books I’ve read is Hiassen’s newest romp for middle grade readers, Chomp (Random/Knopf March 2012).

Wahoo Cray’s Dad is a professional animal trainer and Wahoo has been a part of the family business for as long as he can remember.  Since a chameleon frozen in a snap freeze fell out of a tree and gave his Dad a serious concussion, Wahoo has taken on an even bigger role caring for the menagerie that lives in their back yard.  His Dad hasn’t been able to manage many jobs so Wahoo’s mother has reluctantly accepted a translating job in China, leaving Wahoo and his Dad on their own for a while.

So when a hugely popular survival reality show contacts them to provide animals for the new shows to be shot in the Everglades, the Crays jump at the chance to make some money despite their misgivings.  The egotistical star of the show, Derek Badger, is totally incompetent and it takes all of Wahoo’s persuasive skills to keep his Dad from walking away – especially when Badger almost shoots the Cray’s trained alligator, Alice.  Then Badger starts to believe his own PR and decides to dispense with trained animals and take on the wildlife out in the swamps.  It isn’t long before he’s bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm, leaving the Crays to start searching.  As in all of Hiassen’s hilarious books, Wahoo and the young girl they rescue from her abusive father are the most responsible sensible characters in the mix.  The adults are a wacky group and although there’s real suspense with characters zooming all over the swamp, there is never any doubt that all will wind up nicely.  The animals almost steal the show and the send-off of survival shows is laugh-out loud funny.  Old fans and new will be snapping up Chomp!

Cindy: I read Hoot the year it was published, but have not read the other Hiaasen children’s titles until Chomp. My students are loyal fans, though, and are always eager for a new one. I often display them side by side on the top of my fiction shelves because the bright, iconic covers look so fun all together. I took this one on my recent Spring Break vacation to Captiva Island in Florida where I kayaked through the mangroves in the Pine Island Sound. A delightful encounter with a manatee who spent half an hour playing with me and pushing my kayak in circles with his snout and frolicking around me and hugging the front of my boat with his flippers has sent me in search of other Florida wildlife fiction. Since this is still Mystery Month at Booklist, I read one of the National Parks Mysteries, Deadly Waters (National Geographic 1999) by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson. The Landon kids travel to the Everglades with their parents who are investigating manatee deaths. When a day of fishing is interrupted by the theft of Jack’s camera, the kids get involved in tracking the thief and puzzling out why he wanted it in the first place. While some of the details in the story are dated (loading 35 mm film and sending it out for development, for instance) the information about the environmental issues facing the Everglades and its inhabitants is still relevant. Fans of Hiaasen’s Florida ecological adventures may be motivated to start with this fourth entry in the National Parks series and then they can travel on to the other locales in the titles.

Don’t miss Ian Chipman’s Mystery Writers Stalk the Children Room for more about Carl Hiaasen and the other adult mystery writers who are “investigating” children’s mystery writing.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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