Pond Scum: Alan Silberberg
March 13, 2006
This weekend I read Pond Scum, by Alan Silberberg, which I won as a prize from Susan at Chicken Spaghetti for submitting the first entry to the second Carnival of Children's Literature. It's nice that my compulsive earliness has finally paid off.
I was a bit put off by this book at the beginning. Specifically, I took exception to the introduction of Oliver, a boy who pulls the wings off of flies. What bothered me wasn't so much that Oliver was a boy pulling the wings off of flies (though this is hardly a pleasant attribute). No, what bothered me was this sentence: "He wasn't a bad kid -- just a lonely boy who felt compelled to snatch the flies that kept him company." I mean, shouldn't the author show this, instead of telling us that Oliver isn't a bad kid? Perhaps because I was irritated by this, it took me a while to get into this book.
But Pond Scum grew on me (so to speak). It's a quirky story about a family that moves into an isolated, long-abandoned house, located next to a small pond. The pond and surrounding wood are positively teeming with wildlife. The various birds, animals, and insects make up much of the cast of the book. There are various conflicts occurring between different interest groups: between Oliver and his father; between Oliver and kids at school; between the pond creatures and the humans (especially the real estate agent); between the "kid" pond creatures and the adults; and between the "adult" leaders of the affiliation of creatures. These conflicts swirl about and intersect throughout the book.
But where things really get out of hand (and this is not much of a spoiler, because it's on the back of the book) is when Oliver discovers a way to turn himself into one of the creatures, and interacts with them directly.
On the one hand, this is a fairly simple story, about animals relating to one another, and a boy who has trouble fitting in. But Silberberg manages to address a remarkable number of larger issues, as well as environmental concerns, all with a very light hand. Oh, I still have a few quibbles over some of the writing (show, don't tell, and all that). But overall, I think that kids will find it an enjoyable read, somewhat reminiscent of Hoot. And it might make them think twice about stepping on insects, and certainly about pulling the wings off of flies. Happy Reading! -- Jen