Review: The Pout-Pout Fish


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 3/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 2-5
Author: Deborah Diesen
Illustrator: Dan Hanna
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Published March 2008)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 0374360960
ISBN-13: 978-0374360962

We can’t always control what happens. In fact, we rarely can. But we can always control how we choose to react.

The Pout-Pout Fish is kind of a dopey book about a silly fish with a frowny face who mopes all over the ocean. “I’m a pout-pout fish / With a pout-pout face, / So I spread the dreary-wearies / All over the place. / BLUB / BLUUUB / BLUUUUUUUB.” His friends in the sea try to convince him to cheer up: first a clam, then a jellyfish, then a squid. But nobody can cheer up the “glum gloomy swimmer” — the pout-pout fish tells everyone that his frowny face and miserable demeanour are out of his control as he flops all over the place. Even the straight-talking octopus can’t get him to turn his frown upside down.

Then along comes a beautiful purple fish whom no one has seen before. This vision of loveliness plants a big kiss on the pout-pout fish’s pout…and then swims away.

“Mr. Fish is most astounded. / Mr. Fish is just aghast. / He is stone-faced like a statue. / Then he blinks, and speaks at last.” He announces to everyone that he has been wrong all along: “I’m a kiss-kiss fish / With a kiss-kiss face / For spreading cheery-cheeries / All over the place! / So I’ll SMOOCH / SMOOCH/ SMOOCH / SMOOCH!”

Okay, so this book is not going to win any great prizes in western literature. But I bring it to your attention for three reasons: (1) Little E loves to say the BLUB BLUUUUB BLUUUUUBS and the smooches, and she gets a huge kick out of my pouty voice, so it’s a terrific book to read aloud, (2) the illustrations are lively and tons of fun, and (3) This book is a great jumping-off point for talking about how we are all in control of our reactions. I won’t get too deep into the subject because Tiny J is about five minutes away from waking up from her nap very hungry, but I really do believe that we can protect our children from depression by teaching them to be optimistic and by talking about feelings and how we react to them.

I think every parent and teacher should read Martin Seligman’s The Optimistic Child, which teaches parents how to teach their children to take charge of how they see the world: not to see everything through rose-coloured glasses, but to realize that bad news and unfortunate events are just events, that sadness is not forever, and that we are not our moods or our feelings. This is the principle behind the silly pout-pout fish: he realizes that he doesn’t have to be miserable or bring everyone around him down. He can choose to spread cheery-cheeries rather than dreary-wearies.

I see the book as a metaphor: the pout-pout fish, who suffers from major depressive disorder, receives cognitive behavioural therapy in the form of a kiss from the purple fish, and learns to take charge of his moods and change his maladaptive behaviours and cognitive processes, ending his depression and inspiring him to help others. How lovely.

Gotta go get that baby. How’s your day going? I hope you have more cheery-cheeries than dreary-wearies.


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