CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 20 . . . .May 25, 2007
Ridley Bluefox and the Flying Fish of Fortune Falls.
Montreal, PQ: Lobster Press, 2007.
95 pp., pbk., $8.95.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Jane Bridle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Ridley was tall for his twelve years, with a lanky frame. His skin was deeply tanned from all the time he spent outdoors and his dark brown mop of hair was always covered by a fishing hat decorated with his most successful fishing lures. Ridley loved the media attention that his miraculous, adventurous catches got him. More than anything else, it was the desire for this fame that pushed him deeper into the world of fishing.
Once he had kebabbed the Pollo Pollo, Ridley could not get enough. He had gone on to catch great trophies in the world of fishing and graced many more front covers of Fishin' Fabulous too. He'd been on fourteen magazine covers in the last four years! At home his room was full of stuffed and mounted fish from exotic locales the world over.
But this story is not about any of those accomplishments or any of the stuffed fish on his wall. This is the story of the flying fish of Fortune Falls - fish that are conspicuously absent from the walls and halls of the Bluefox home.
Ridley Bluefox is a 12-year-old master fisherman who cannot wait to get his face on the fifteenth cover of Fishin' Fabulous magazine. He encounters a "crooked old man" who gives him a map of the mysterious Fortune Falls and special bait for the elusive flying fish. When the man warns that "he'll never catch" the fish, Ridley is determined to prove him wrong.
After a trip to his local library ("a place he had never visited"), he finds information about the habitat of the flying fish in a memoir by adventurer, Sir Jonathan Whimsby. Ridley's parents arrange to find him a pilot to fly to England to meet the author. Armed with Sir Jonathan's advice, he sets off for the South Pacific island of Pingu Ma in search of the flying fish. Aided by a young native girl, he finally reaches Fortune Falls after undergoing experiences with wild boars, spiders and eels. After a supernatural encounter with the flying fish, Ridley emerges none the wiser after his adventure.
I kept hoping that there would be some measure of positive character development in Ridley. He is so unattractively portrayed at the outset as a narcissistic misanthrope, but he remains the same mean-spirited, arrogant little boy to the end. He is rude and ungrateful to almost every character who tries to assist him, beginning with the old man who gives him the bait - "you sit up and listen, you crooked old man"- to the pilot who Ridley thinks to himself is "gross, this guy is really gross." When he finally boards a plane for home, he is annoyed when someone takes the seat beside him and only changes his mind when he is able to introduce himself as a famous fisherman.
The author defines words using "fishnotes" throughout the book which, she explains, help the reader "learn the meaning of certain words." These "fishnotes" not only interrupt the flow but may insult the intelligence of the reader. What happened to the skill of discerning meaning through context or consulting a dictionary? The footnotes are also used rather arbitrarily and inconsistently throughout. For example, on one page "chesterfield" is defined but not "wildebeest."
The author also employs a curious mix of fact and fiction. While some place names are familiar; i.e. Zanzibar and Antilles are "fishnoted," fictitious places such as Pingu Ma or Fortune Falls are not, which may confuse the reader.
While it should be noted that this review is based on an advanced reading copy, the editing is sloppy. There are frequent misplaced commas, brackets and hyphens. Solomon Islands are spelled incorrectly as "Soloman." The layout of the text and print quality is poor.
Debut novelist Carrie Percy is a Grade 3 teacher who, according to the publisher's notes, wrote this story in response to her students' parents "who wanted challenging books without mature themes" for their children. However, many authors are able to incorporate sophisticated language into challenging books for children without resorting to "fishnotes" or unlikable protagonists.
Jane Bridle is a librarian for Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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