Oliver Newton’s parents own their own bank. They are rich and important people. They are very busy people. They are about to become victims of the Global Financial Crisis, taking many of their investors both small and large with them!
Oliver is a small, naive Year 5 boy who misses his parents and desperately wants their approval and attention. He also desperately wants a dog.
The story begins with Oliver, the boy who has every toy and gadget known to man mournfully trying to befriend a small dog (whom he has called Barclay) through the glass window of the local pet shop. Oliver is banned from entering the pet shop as the staff know he is not allowed to buy a dog. This is where Nancy steps in, buys the dog from under his nose, entices Oliver into her car and then threatens to kill the dog!
Nancy turns out to be one of the many housekeepers/nannies Oliver has been cared for over the course of his short life. She is also an investor with his parents’ bank who cannot now get her money and is in desperate need of assistance.
There is a lot of desperation going around in this book! Oliver’s parents are desperate to not lose everything, escape from their investors and in the case of Owen, Oliver’s Dad, start a new bank in Europe. Nancy and her daughter Rose are desperate to save their camels from dying of thirst by getting their investment money back from the Newtons and perhaps get a bit of closure for the death of Tim, Nancy’s husband. Hayden, who works at the bank desperately wants his new BMW. Erik desperately wants any money he can get by simply threatening to kill Barclay. The kid’s at Oliver’s exclusive school desperately want to double their money overnight… the list goes on.
There is a lot of desperation in this book and most of it revolves around money. Oliver’s simplistic and often misguided attempts to please everybody, help Nancy, rescue Barclay and impress his parents leave him further and further out of his depth and more and more stressed! Yet somehow, Oliver’s staunch belief in doing the right thing, no matter how difficult or how expensive eventually rubs off on Nancy, Rose and eventually his mother.
Right and wrong are rarely black and white, and as Oliver struggles to come to grips with Maths in general and his parents’ world of high finance in particular, the lines become even more blurred. Only Oliver seems to see the difference between greed and selfishness compared to compassion and selflessness. All his care is given to others.
Morris Gleitzman has produced a very topical book, at a time when many students struggle to understand the financial woes being reported around them. This book does not set out to explain or clarify the situation, but it does make it clear that it is the way we treat each other, not how much money we have that is important!
Read an extract from Too Small to Fail here.