By Carla Gunn
Amphibian is the story of Phineas Walsh, a precocious nine-year-old boy. As he tells his story we see the world through Phin’s eyes and we are reminded how beautiful and amazing, but sad and scary the world can be. His struggle to make sense of this puzzling place is poignant and serious, but also entertaining and often hilarious.
Phin is obsessed with the state of the world’s animals and he thinks about them all the time. Almost everything he talks about relates to the animal world in some way. If his mother makes an offhand comment , his rejoinder is about how an animal or insect would react in that situation. It sometimes seems as though he is thinking like an animal himself!
When Phin compliments his mother on how she looks in her new white pants, she is devastated to learn that he meant she looked bigger in the white pants than the black ones! In the animal world, bigger is better because “the bigger they are, the less likely they are to be attacked by predators.” Phin doesn’t understand that while this is useful for animals, it has nothing to do with people, especially women, who only want to look thin, not bigger!
Phin’s main concern is that so many animals are endangered or threatened. He would like to do something to help but what can a kid do? He feels helpless and overwhelmed and is losing sleep over this. Unlike other people, Phin cannot put aside troublesome thoughts and get on with normal activities, like chores, homework, and playing with friends. Even his playtime is preoccupied; he deals with his various anxieties by writing about his imaginary world of Reull and its animal inhabitants.
When Phin’s teacher gets a White’s Tree Frog for the class and keeps it in an aquarium, Phin realizes that this is his opportunity to finally do something and save at least one small animal. He enlists his best friend Bird in his plan and their attempt to rescue Cuddles (Phin named him!) is bold, crazy and brave. Phin has taken his first step and although it had mixed results, he is now on his path.
Carla Gunn has created a character who is as innocent and vulnerable as the animals he is concerned about. At the same time, he seems a little too old for his nine years. He is already trying to come to terms with the world he lives in and his attempt to figure out how he fits into it is fascinating, endearing and inspiring.