I really like this book. It does all that a picturebook should do. It tells a simple tale: Toby wins a goldfish at the funfair, names him Moby, takes him home and, seeing him unhappy, makes him a miniature funfair that makes them both happy. It is what the blurb says it is – charming and delightful.
What really works for this book is the lack of the adult voice – it is a story that speaks to the child without adult intervention. No adult appears in either the text or the wonderful illustrations to warn, stop, interpret, cajole – and this is the magic of the book, which allows Toby to be centre-stage as a little boy. The magic is reflected in the space within the images, which have a magical quality in both the carefully selected perspectives and lively colours.
I recall a rather anaemic goldfish named Jaws in my classroom many years ago, and the focused interest of many of the 9-year-olds in the room about his comfort zones and his possible states of mind when all I saw was a fish swimming in a bowl. And I think that it is this that Nathan Reed captures – the certainty of childhood, which allows a goldfish to be lonely, in need of cheering up and the practicality of a young boy who figures up how to make it better.
My only reservation about the book is a grammatical one – ‘If I had a dogfish, thought Toby,’ begins a sequence of possibilities considered by the main character over the next eight pages. I wonder, should the ‘If I had a dogfish’ and the subsequent considerations explored by Toby be in inverted commas?