A story of a little fish who learns important lessons about bravery, tolerance, and community with the help of a loving father.
Much of the premise of this debut children’s book seems inspired by the popular 2003 Disney movie Finding Nemo, even down to the heroine Hope’s unusually formed fins. One could do worse than emulate one of Disney’s best-crafted stories, but this isn’t just a retread of that little-boy-lost tale—instead, it’s one in which larger forces are at work. Where Nemo largely sought personal growth, debut author Neumeier makes Hope a scrappy crusader for the health and security of her entire community. As in J.D. Salinger’s classic 1948 short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the fish provide a cautionary tale: they feed on bananas stored in underwater caves, and they sometimes gorge themselves so grotesquely that they become trapped and perish. The author expands on this idea to create a complete economic system in which amphibious crabs harvest bananas from the shore of a nearby island and then distribute them to create feeding grounds for banana fish like Hope. Previously mocked by other fish for her longer fins, Hope eventually distinguishes herself as a strong swimmer who takes on the role of “defender” for her school, protecting them on their feeding-ground trips by acting as a lure for predators such as sharks, catfish, and the crabs themselves. Naturally, she gets separated from the group, her father strikes out after her, and she faces her fears and forges new friendships away from the world she knows. But there’s more at stake here in Neumeier’s adventurous tale than just getting home safely: in the end, he’s created an extended allegory about economics, warfare, and diplomacy. Hope becomes an important player in a multiparty treaty agreement to implement a new banana distribution system, to parcel out territories for feeding grounds and living quarters, and to explore alternative food sources for the fish. Even if the overall moral of the story is somewhat unclear, Hope is a spunky, aptly named heroine, and her escapades will engage readers young and old.
A bright fish tale that young readers will enjoy, even if unnerving truths about conflict lurk below its surface.