the DAY i swapped my DAD for TWO goldfish
By Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Dave McKean
White Wolf, 1997
HarperCollins, 2004

the DAY i swapped my DAD for TWO goldfish is a children's picture book by the popular novelist Neil Gaiman, and it is considerably better than some of his later attempts at children's literature (yes, I'm looking at you, Chu's Day and Fortunately, The Milk).

A young boy wants to trade his friend for some goldfish... but he doesn't have anything cool enough to trade for them. Until his gazes falls on his dad, who is fairly nice, as dads go. This turns out to be an acceptable trade, and soon he is two goldfish richer.

But now his mother is not happy. At all. She tells him to trade back the goldfish for his dad. But it turns out that his friend has already exchanged his father for an electric guitar... so he takes the guitar and goes off looking for his father. Today has been a good day for swapping, and he ends up walking all over town, undoing trades and trying to find his father.

The story has a good sense of humor, both in content and format. It has a very simple plot without much in the way of direct development, but between the art and the things hinted at but not explored (starting with the fact that a boy can just trade away his father) the story is both engaging and has a good degree of re-readability.

The illustrations are interesting. They are based on messy sketches that look like they were done by a fourth grader, brightly but messily colored in water paints done over décollage, older water paints, and sketches, and occasionally enhanced by collage. All of which is quite well done, if sometimes a bit too chaotic -- a chaos that is enhanced by the text appearing in odd margins to avoid the illustrations, intruding willy-nilly across other illustrations, and surrounding and explaining the central speech bubbles.

Speaking of art, the original cover of the DAY i swapped my DAD for TWO goldfish is rather famous. It featured a man in a suit with a fishbowl for a head, and was later adapted for use as the album cover for the 1999 Counting Crows album This Desert Life. Presumably because of this, the newer HarperCollins edition replaced the cover with something slightly less impressive, a scribble-scrabble drawing of a man with goldfish for eyes, being pointedly ignored by a young girl.

Given the sense of humor and the subversion of standard text formatting, I think that this is one of those picture books best enjoyed by older children, perhaps about 9-11 years old. Children younger than nine will get the humor, but given the odd typeface, the constantly variable background washes, the odd text layout, and the random appearance of random scraps of non-relevant text (it's an artsy thing), younger children will probably find it rather daunting, and may prefer it as a read-loud story.

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