Deborah Diesen reflects on Smile, Pout-Pout Fish, the latest release in her kids' series, and the many adventures of its main character.
The recent release of Smile, Pout-Pout Fish, a mini-adventure that introduces the pout-pout fish to an even younger audience, has had me reflecting on the journey that Mr. Fish has taken over the years. It’s a journey that goes back not just to 2008, when the original Pout-Pout Fish was published, but all the way back to 2002.
My kids, who are now a teen and a tween, were then a three-year-old and a seven-month-old. One afternoon while the younger one napped, I was spending time with my three-year-old, who wasn’t in the finest of moods. In an effort to cheer him up, I made a silly face, with an exaggerated pout. It had the intended effect: he thought it was funny, and he made a silly, pouty face right back at me. Pretty soon we were both laughing and making pouty faces. As I laughed with him I said, “We look like fish. Like pout-pout fish!”
As soon as I said those words out loud, the idea of the pout-pout fish came to life. And almost in the same moment, I knew Mr. Fish’s whole untold story: that he wasn’t really a pouty guy but was, instead, smoochy!
I immediately jotted down my idea on a scrap of paper. Over the next week or so, I wrote the story’s first draft, adding in other ocean creatures and including a transformative random act of smoochiness. After several revisions on my own, I took the story to my monthly writing group; their feedback helped me improve the story and prepare for submitting it to publishers. Fast-forward several years, and I was overjoyed to be offered a contract for the book by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.
After a careful search for just the right artist, editor Janine O’Malley selected Dan Hanna to illustrate the book. I’ll never forget the thrill when I first saw the sketches of Dan’s delightful illustrations. He had managed to capture the personality of Mr. Fish, and of all of Mr. Fish’s friends, perfectly. It’s an honor to have my words paired with Dan’s art. I have enjoyed our collaboration immensely.
Since the original story was published, Mr. Fish has had a second full-length adventure in The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark; has had a mini-adventure especially for babies and toddlers in the new Smile, Pout-Pout Fish; and will head off to school later this year in the forthcoming full-length adventure The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School. The growing popularity of Mr. Fish and his friends has been amazing, humbling, and wonderful.
Throughout the years of Mr. Fish’s journey, as I have seen children, families, libraries, and schools embrace and enjoy the pout-pout fish character, I have come to fully understand that a picture book is about so much more than just its words and illustrations. When a child and a loved one read a story together, they share an experience. And it is the joy and the details of that shared experience that truly bring the story to life.
And that, when you get right down to it, is what the pout-pout fish stories are really about.