Chomp by Carl Hiaasen
Random House Children's Books, $16.99, isbn 978-0-375-86842-9, release date 3/27/12. Best for ages 8-12
How could you not want to read this book! For Chomp, as with 3 previous Carl Hiaasen kids' books (Hoot, Flush, and Scat), Random House has created a bright, iconic cover with tons of kid appeal. The single word title, bright yellow cover, & graphic alligator image will lure kids to explore the thrilling story within.
Of course, the contents have to live up to a great cover. Be assured that Carl Hiaasen always delivers an exciting, fast-paced story full of great characters and a unique sense of place. Hoot, Flush, and Scat are set in Florida and focus on the environmental issues affecting that state; from off-shore dumping to urban sprawl. It is evident in every word that Hiaasen loves Florida and the animals and people who live there. Florida has been facing very tough economic times and Hiaasen added that element to Chomp to better reflect the lives of his young readers.
Chomp is the story of young Wahoo Cray and his dad, Mickey Cray, an exotic animal wrangler who provides snakes, alligators, and other animals for TV shows and movies. The Cray family is in danger of losing their home and their animals because they are $8000 behind on their mortgage. While Mrs. Cray takes a job in China teaching Mandarin to American executives, Wahoo and Mickey reluctantly accept a job with a survivalist TV show called Expedition Survival. The arrogant and foolish star of the show, Derek Badger, repeatedly ignores Mickey's and Wahoo's warnings about handling their animals, thus putting himself and others in danger. Before long, the Crays, Wahoo's new friend Tuna, and the TV crew are searching the Everglades for a lost and injured Derek Badger.
There is lots of exciting stuff in Chomp including animal attacks, snake handling, & air boat rides through the Everglades. Hiaasen also packs in lots of facts about animals, ecology, and science; kids will learn about snake behavior and the problem of exotic animals like iguanas and Burmese pythons being released into the wild in Florida. Yet Hiaasen never forgets the emotional heart of his story. In one poignant scene, Wahoo's friend Tuna, who sports a black eye given to her by her father, tells Wahoo how her family lives in an RV in a Walmart parking lot. Her family has already lost their home. The same could happen to the Crays if Wahoo and Mickey give up the job with Expedition Survival. Wahoo frets over whether to call the police to report Tuna's injuries and whether or not it is better for Tuna to live with an abusive parent or to enter foster care.
I've been a Hiaasen fan for years, first reading his adult mysteries and then falling in love with Hoot, his first kids' novel for which he won a Newbery Honor award. Middle grade boys and girls will relate to Wahoo and Tuna and despise the ignorance and fakery of Derek Badger. I strongly recommend Chomp, as well as Hiaasen's other middle grade novels.