Sing a Song of Tuna Fish: Hard-to-Swallow Stories from Fifth Grade

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Sing a Song of Tuna Fish: Hard-to-Swallow Stories from Fifth Grade Book Poster Image
Tales of childhood long ago -- in 1979.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Mother and daughter egg a car.


A boy is killed in a traffic accident, a punch is thrown.


References to "making out," girls who "butt-switch" when they walk, men trying to entice girls, and a free school where the kids don't have to wear clothes.


Store names.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to adults smoking and getting drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's nothing strongly objectionable here, though some of the content is aimed a older kids. Mother and daughter egg a car, for example, and there is discussion of walking in a way to attract boys.

User Reviews

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Kid, 12 years old April 9, 2008


This is a great book with a lot of fun stories!

What's the story?

Author Esme Codell relates a series of vignettes from 1979, when she was a fifth-grader in Chicago. She describes her neighborhood stores and parks, her relatives, friends, and neighbors, and minor events, such as egging the illegally parked car belonging to a rich person, fighting sexism in temple, trying to avoid her piano lesson, going to a free school, dealing with a big snowstorm, trying to find out about boys, and surprising her grandmother.

Is it any good?

This slight but entertaining collection of vignettes (they can't really be called stories) is pleasant and, at times, witty. It doesn't have the power or depth of Esme Codell's previous book, Sahara Special, but then it doesn't intend to. Kids who clamor for stories of their parents' childhoods will enjoy it, and it may make the adults sharing it with them nostalgic.

The size, typeface, and illustrations make this look like a middle grade book, on the order of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. But some of the content, while not strikingly objectionable, is clearly aimed at somewhat older children, such as a chapter on love in which a friend gives Esme a lesson in "butt-switching," a way to walk to attract boys. On the other hand, older children may find Codell's way of addressing her readers a bit condescending. This is a pleasant, amusing book, but Codell can do better -- and no doubt will.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about childhood stories. Parents can use this as a prompt to tell their kids stories of their own childhoods. Kids can talk about what stories they hope to share with their own families some day.

Book details

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