cover image THE FISH IN ROOM 11


Heather Dyer, , illus. by Peter Bailey. . Scholastic/Chicken House, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-439-57975-9

Dyer makes a sparkling debut with this droll tale set at a British seaside hotel starring Toby, a boy who was discovered in an empty room of The Grand when he was a baby, "clean (except for a little bit of seaweed between his toes)." When Mr. Harris, the cranky manager, finally notices the lad ("Who's that boy in the pajamas?.... Hasn't he been here rather a long time?"), he makes Toby perform endless chores. The good-natured boy's life brightens when, while walking under a pier, he encounters Eliza Flot, a mermaid who lives with her parents in a cave behind a wall of seaweed. After the Flots give Toby a valuable ring (a clue to the boy's birthright), Mr. Harris notices it and precipitates an onslaught of interlopers in search of hidden treasure. The young hero fears that the Flots' residence will be discovered and—with the help of an old sea captain and a kind woman (Mr. Harris's cousin) who live at The Grand—plots to disguise the finned family as hotel guests. Dyer weaves the details surrounding this ruse, the downfall of the comically villainous Mr. Harris and Toby's identity into an enchanting story; Bailey's pen-and-inks make the most of the comic moments. The novel's seaside setting, the feisty young protagonist, spry dialogue and understated wit bring to mind some of Hilary McKay's books set at the beach (Dog Friday ; The Amber Cat ). This winsome caper is just right for newly independent readers. Ages 7-9. (May)