Wahoo Cray lives in a zoo. His father is an animal wrangler, so he’s grown up with all manner of gators, snakes, parrots, rats, monkeys, and snappers in his backyard. The critters, he can handle. His father is the unpredictable one.
When his dad takes a job with a reality TV show called Expedition Survival!, Wahoo figures he’ll have to do a bit of wrangling himself—to keep his dad from killing Derek Badger, the show’s inept and egotistical star, before the shoot is over. But the job keeps getting more complicated. Derek Badger foolishly believes his own PR and insists on using wild animals for his stunts. And Wahoo’s acquired a shadow named Tuna—a girl who’s sporting a shiner courtesy of her father and needs a place to hide out.
They’ve only been on location in the Everglades for a day before Derek gets bitten by a bat and goes missing in a storm. Search parties head out and promptly get lost themselves. And then Tuna’s dad shows up with a gun . . .
It’s anyone’s guess who will actually survive Expedition Survival. . . .Amazon Best Books of the Month for Kids, April 2012: Carl Hiaasen taps into a pop culture phenomenon in Chomp by taking on the popularity of reality television shows with one of his own, “Expedition Survival!.” The Florida Everglades provide the perfect backdrop for a reality survival show and Mickey Cray, a wild animal wrangler, and his son Wahoo are hired to keep the pampered Expedition Survival! star from accidentally killing himself with the local wildlife. The Cray’s are joined by a girl on the run from her abusive father and adventure, laughter, and even a mysterious disappearance follow. The eccentric characters and wacky humor that make Hiaasen’s adult books so much fun to read carry over to the pages of Chomp and Wahoo’s voice of reason in the cacophony of unpredictable adults is an appealing dynamic for young readers. –Seira Wilson
Amazon Exclusive: Q&A with Author Carl Hiaasen
Q. What do you enjoy most about writing for kids versus writing for adults?
A. The best part about writing for kids is the piles of letters I get. Grown-ups might stop you in an airport and tell you they like the novels, but kids will sit down and write a three-page letter, complete with illustrations. They’re sharp and perceptive, and they really love the irreverent point of view in the books.
Q. Chomp pokes fun at a survivalist reality TV show–what do you think about America’s obsession with “reality” TV?
A. Reality television taps into the same human impulse that makes you slow down on the highway to gawk at a six-car pile-up. Everybody does it and nobody wants to admit it. Beside Jon Stewart, the best comedy on television is Finding Bigfoot and some of these other reality shows. Infested! is another good one, particular the bedbug episode.
Q. As a native Floridian, what is the most exotic animal you’ve encountered?
A. Poisonous snakes, gators, crocs, iguanas, black widow spiders, all that stuff. I tried to raise a couple of wild raccoons, which I would not recommend. I also used to breed rat snakes, which are beautiful animals. Even though Chomp takes place in the Everglades, I wouldn’t call it a scary place–not nearly as scary as the lobby of the Orlando airport on a day when the Disney tours arrive.
Q. In Chomp, both Mickey and Wahoo are fearless when it comes to snakes and other wild beasts (and nutty people, for that matter)–do you have any animal phobias?
A. Yeah, I’m not crazy about chihuahuas. My Labrador and I will go two or three blocks out of our way to avoid one. For some reason they always want to chew my ankles off.
Q. You named the two kids in Chomp after fish–Wahoo and Tuna–how did that come about?
A. I just thought it would be cool to name a boy after Wahoo McDaniel, who played for the Dolphins when I was a kid. I’m not sure whether he was named after the fish, or after the wild noises he made when he was a pro wrestler. As for Tuna, it’s just a fun name that looks good on the page. “Big Tuna” is what they used to call Bill Parcells, the former Giants coach. He looks nothing like a tuna, by the way.
Q. Did you know when you started writing that you would include a character who is being abused by a parent?
A. My novels don’t have wizards and dragon-hunters, just ordinary kids in the ordinary world. And the reality, sadly, is that some kids go home every night wondering if their mother or father is going to hurt them. That’s Tuna’s world, and I didn’t have any qualms about portraying it that way. In Scat I had a character whose dad comes back very badly injured from Iraq. Again, that’s real life for thousands and thousands of families in this country.
Q. Can we assume you are going to keep writing for kids (we hope)?
A. Hoot was going to be my one and only novel for kids, but now I’m sort of hooked on writing them. Young readers are just the coolest audience, and I feel so lucky that my novels have been so well-received. I don’t see myself quitting. It’s too much fun.
Q. You clearly have the single word title thing going for your kids’ books, is that just something you started with and stuck to, or is there more to the story?
A. The novels for young readers have one-word titles because I want to distinguish them from the grown-up novels, which all have two-word titles like Skinny Dip and Strip Tease. It was a conscious decision. I have a son in middle school (and also grandchildren), and none of them are ready to read the Big Person novels yet. The one-word title lets the booksellers (and the parents) know that those are the kid-safe books.
Q. What has been your most memorable moment as an author?
A. I was at a book-signing in Boulder, Colorado, when a very nice woman told me she’d named her cancerous tumor after a character in one of my novels. It was quite astonishing. I was flattered (who wouldn’t be?) but also a bit rattled. The happy ending was that her surgery had been successful and she was totally recovered.
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