Reading Corner: The Pout-Pout Fish
“Blub. Bluuub. Bluuuuuub.” These three words and everything about how they’re presented in The Pout-Pout Fish—from the spelling, the all caps, the growing font size, and of course the accompanying pictures by Dan Hanna—make them the star of this book each and every time they appear. (And they appear A LOT. Have you noticed I love picture books with repetition?)
They beg to be read aloud, repeated, moaned, groaned or even sung, which is part of what makes reading this book by Deborah Diesen so much fun. And they help us get a sense of the pout-pout fish as a character, in an instant.
Language Play in Action
This book for me is all about playing with words and the sounds of the language. When I read this aloud, I dive into the rhythm and rhyme from the very first lines and I love how the upbeat feel is punctuated by the pout-pout fish’s very un-upbeat refrain about “spreading the dreary-wearies all over the place”.
There is lovely language in this book, and the use of alliteration and rhymes within lines makes the text both fun and memorable. Sure, your toddler might not appreciate the phrase “kaleidoscope of mope”, but wouldn’t we all agree that it’s tough to always be “greeted with a grimace and a growl”?
Rich Language Use
Just because the language in the book is not what your child knows — or even what you would expect them to use day to day — doesn’t mean that they can’t enjoy the sounds of the words and become familiar with vocabulary that they may encounter later in other stories or reading. Much of the language in books is “literary language” — language that we might not ever use in conversation but which appears again and again in texts. A teacher I know once remarked that authors are always writing about characters “exclaiming” even though she doesn’t think she’s ever “exclaimed” in her life!
Besides, the amazing thing about reading with young children is that you never realise what they are picking up until they repeat it to you, sometimes in completely different yet appropriate contexts. It is for the same reason that experts advise to skip the baby talk and speak to babies “like real people” from birth. Like babies can learn the art of conversational turn-taking long before they utter a complete sentence, children are absorbing and making sense of all sorts of vocabulary, phrases and sentence patterns through being read to—without any of it being explicitly taught.
A Matter of Mindset
The kicker for this book, though, is the ending. Despite the efforts of his well-meaning friends, the pout-pout fish is adamant throughout most of the book that he’s “destined to be glum” because “it’s just the way I am”. While we might not have ever thought about ourselves as “destined to be glum”, many of us have had other self-limiting thoughts like “I’m just not good at math/writing”, “I’m not a runner”, “I don’t sing”, or “I’m too short/tall to...” We, too, have thought, “It’s just the way I am.” But implicit in these statements is the idea that all of these traits or skills are forever fixed—that they cannot be changed, improved upon or even upended.
Lucky for the pout-pout fish, he encounters a stranger who sees his “pout” completely differently and it changes his own view of himself. While not every mindset can be so easily transformed, the pout-pout fish presents a good talking point with kids — what we think of ourselves is NOT fixed, is NOT always accurate, and is NOT how it has to be. It’s within our power to change HOW and WHAT we think, and it can have a huge impact on our own lives and on those around us.