I first discovered this book last winter when I was working as the storyteller at our local library. Deborah just happened to see a comment I left on the CWIM blog about the 2008 Top Ten list and then emailed me offering signed Pout-Pout Fish bookmarks to give out at storytime. How nice is that? I've been following her blog ever since. :)
For those who haven't read it yet, The Pout-Pout Fish is a clever and colorful rhyming picture book about Mr. Fish whose chronic frown is turned upside down when a friendly fish gives him a kiss! This act of kindness turns this Pout-Pout Fish who "spreads dreary wearies all over the place" into a smiling Kiss Kiss Fish who "spreads cheery cheeries all over the place!" Because this story has a great optimistic and resilient message, I thought it would be a perfect book to spotlight for Fishful Thinking Thursday...and it just so happens to be about a fish!
A NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER
Me: First of all, congratulations on The Pout-Pout Fish being such a big hit! When you first heard that your story was named one of the top ten picture books of 2008, what was your first reaction?
Deborah: My whole experience with The Pout-Pout Fish has been an amazing adventure! Time magazine choosing the book as one of the top ten children's books of 2008 was quite an unexpected piece of news. I think my first reaction to it (given that I have a good proportion of Eeyore in my personality) was disbelief: the news seemed too good to be true! But after that, my second reaction was just to enjoy it and to be grateful. There are so many terrific children's books out there, some of which get their day in the sun, and some of which don't. Much comes down simply to luck and timing. My knowledge of that, along with my great gratitude to all the parents, librarians, teachers, and others who have shared The Pout-Pout Fish with children, makes me appreciate the success of the book even more.
Me: What or WHO inspired the character of Mr. Fish, and how long did he (the idea) swim around in your head before The Pout Pout Fish splashed on to paper (or the computer screen)?
Deborah: I came up with the idea for The Pout-Pout Fish after a real life "pouty" encounter. One afternoon, my son was in a bad mood and being pretty mopey about it. Since sometimes humor is the best way to help someone out of a grouchy mood, I was being a bit silly with him and doing an exaggerated version of his pout. This Great Big Pout made my son laugh, and then he started making a giant pouty face back at me. My son and I did the big pouting back and forth several times, and then I laughed and said, "We look like fish! Like pout-pout fish." And suddenly there was a story idea! I wrote the idea down right away, so I wouldn't forget. I'm not sure if I started writing the story immediately, or if a few weeks passed before I started work on it. But once I started writing it, the first draft emerged pretty quickly - probably within a few days. (Of course, the second, third, and beyond drafts took a bit longer, but that’s another story...)
Me: I had the opportunity to read your story to my daughter's kindergarten class recently. The kids were captivated by the clever rhymes and colorful sea creatures. They loved repeating Mr. Fish's refrain with me and couldn't stop giggling when he planted "smooches" on all of his friends. When you make author visits and share your story, which parts tend to get the biggest laughs/smiles?
Deborah: Dan Hanna's art is amazing, as it captures the personalities of Mr. Fish and his friends so well. The cover perfectly represents the "before" portrait of Mr. Fish, and kids particularly enjoy that image. Kids also really like the recurring "bluuuuuubs" in the storyline, which I always have them say right along with me. Perhaps the overall favorite spot in the book is the page spread that shows Mr. Fish immediately after Miss Shimmer's random act of smoochiness: he's upside-down on a rock, looking mightily confused, trying to make sense of his transformative moment. I always slow down when I read those pages, to heighten the suspense before the smoochy denouement!
It's funny, though: the very last page of the book, which shows Mr. Fish and Miss Shimmer sharing a smooch, is occasionally a little too much lovey-doveyness for some of the older kids in attendance. I've heard a few good-natured groans during school visits for that page! But younger kids and their parents do like the ending. (And so does Mr. Fish!)
Me: As a young child, what were a few of your favorite picture books and why? Did you have a favorite author?
Deborah: I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Seuss books (and still do!). I particularly loved Fox in Socks, and even now welcome any opportunity to read it aloud. Another childhood book that stands out in my mind (if a bit vaguely after all the years since I've read it) is That's Good, That's Bad by Joan Lexau and illustrated by Aliki. And, later in childhood, I was a huge Little House fan. I read and re-read all the books in the series until they literally started falling apart!
Me: Did you write poems and stories as a child? Perhaps daydreamed about having a book written by YOU on the library shelves someday?
Deborah: As a child, I loved to write! The first bit of creative writing I remember doing was poetry. I wrote a poem about a butterfly when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, and then launched into a busy period of producing rhyming poems about colors and animals. Around 4th or 5th grade, I tried my hand at an original "novel," which was pretty much a knock-off of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all...). Through junior high, senior high, and early college, I held on to the notion of myself as a writer, and hoped (without truly believing) that someday I'd have a book of my own. In my twenties and early thirties, I set aside writing. It just didn’t seem a very practical aspiration. But then my kids came along, and all that exposure to children's books reawakened my interest in writing. I'm glad it did! It's such an amazing thing to have become a published author - something I didn't quite dare dream entirely, yet still somehow managed to accomplish.
Me: One of my favorite things about The Pout-Pout Fish is the positive message it sends. As printed on the back cover, Sometimes a kiss is all it takes to turn things around. What do you ultimately hope that kids (and parents) will take away from reading this story?
Deborah: I hope that the story of Mr. Fish helps kids and parents to remember that the little things we do have a profound influence on those around us. As I tell kids, if you notice someone feeling grouchy -- even if it's yourself! -- you might think about The Pout-Pout Fish, and share a little encouragement with someone around you. It doesn't have to be a kiss, it could just be a smile. But it might just do the trick! I also hope that kids and others will take away from the story a little bit of book joy. Fun words, silly sounds, and stories of all types are a pleasure and treasure we should share together as often as possible!
The Pout-Pout Fish has definitely brought a lot of "book joy" to our family! Again, I want to thank Deborah for allowing me to spotlight her and Mr.Fish this week. I'm really looking forward to the release of the sequel, The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark (fall 2010). For more Pout-Pout Fish fun (word games, cootie catchers, a fish mask), click here!
For more optimism and resilience activities, click the fish!