Book Review: Chomp

Book Review: Chomp by Carl Hiassen

Chomp is a total romp! And that concludes the rhyming portion of this book review.

Novelist, columnist, and all-around funny guy Carl Hiaasen has now written four books for kids, Chomp being the most recent. Hiaasen brings his sense of humor and his devotion to the preservation of natural habitats and native species to his writing for younger readers, and the result is pure fun.

Chomp tells the story of Wahoo Cray, an ordinary kid… who happens to live with gators, howler monkeys, and pythons, among other critters. Wahoo’s dad Mickey is an animal wrangler, expert at handling all sorts of wild creatures and making them look good on camera. Unfortunately, Mickey is a bit out of commission after sustaining a concussion thanks to a frozen iguana falling on his head (don’t ask). The family’s finances are in dire straits until they’re hired by reality TV star Derek Badger to wrangle animals for an upcoming Everglades episode of the hugely popular series, Expedition Survival! (That exclamation mark is part of the show’s name, not an expression of my enthusiasm.)

Problems? You bet. Derek is, to put it politely, a big fake. Overweight and sporting an artificial tan, Derek relies on stunt doubles and fancy camera angles, until he gets it into his head to make the Everglades episode “real”. Wahoo and Mickey find themselves deep in the Glades, dealing with snakes, bats, and other biting critters, while trying to earn their keep by making the star look good. Let’s just say that it doesn’t go according to plan. Out-of-control airboats, a runaway science-loving girl, her gun-toting crazy father, thunderstorms and grounded helicopters all come together for a riotous, dangerous, and ultimately hilarious dramatic high point.

Wahoo is a terrific lead character — devoted to his father and their animals, brave when he needs to be, willing to put himself on the line for family and friends, but with a low tolerance for fools — which may not be the best quality in someone trying to work with a conceited Hollywood star. Supporting characters, like his friend Tuna and Derek’s assistant Raven, are memorable, well-defined, and full of spunk and sparkle.

My 10-year-old and I picked this one out as our latest read-before-bed book, and it was a great choice. We were hooked and had a hard time stopping for the night after just one chapter, and the kiddo’s giggles and snorts (quoth he, “Derek is a jerk!” and “Derek is so stupid!) were entertaining interruptions throughout. (I did try to get the kiddo to do a Q&A with me for this one, but apparently watching TV with his dad is, at the moment, a lot more fun). He obviously enjoyed Chomp a great deal, and I really did too. There are times when I find my mind wandering while I read aloud, but not with this one — I think I had as much fun as my son did.

A final note: My son enjoyed Chomp as a read-aloud, but I don’t think he’d have managed it on his own. I would say that most elementary grade readers would find it a challenge, but would enjoy it with an adult reading partner. For independent reading, I’d recommend Chomp for middle school aged kids. Reading aloud or reading on their own, kids who enjoy adventure stories will definitely get a kick out of Chomp.

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