Julia Donaldson's The Fish Who Cried Wolf
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
More than a Finding Nemo Book
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
I don't believe you'll ever find me recommending a Disney book. To my mind, they most often read like highlight reels of the associated film rather than stand-alone stories. So if you have a young fan of the already classic Finding Nemo and want to expand that enthusiasm to the world of reading, I recommend steering clear of some underwhelming Finding Nemo book and turning instead to The Fish Who Cried Wolf.
You'll find visual echoes of Nemo here in the cheery colors and engaging renderings of real undersea creatures. You'll find story echoes in the narrative of a young "schoolfish," captured by fishermen, who must find his way home.
But you'll find many more differences that make this an original story with its own message. Imagine a Finding Nemo book in which Nemo finds himself!
I actually found The Fish Who Cried Wolf during a search for picture books on the subject of dishonesty. The book had been miscategorized (likely because of the cute but besides-the-point title).
This is the story of Tiddler, a little fish "who wasn't much to look at." Always late for school, Tiddler is becoming well-known for his fanciful tales about what is was that delayed him. Perhaps he was captured by a squid, or trapped in a treasure chest and rescued by a mermaid.
These are depicted as harmless lies, if they can even be called that. There are no consequences, and Tiddler doesn't seem to expect anyone to believe him. These aren't excuses meant to prevent punishment; rather, they're stories that Tiddler's "audience" has come to expect of him, and they are shared far and wide. Their only negative consequence is that, while Tiddler is trying to dream up his greatest story yet, he fails to notice the fishermen's net that ensnares him.
Tiddler's talent for invention ends up leading, though, not to his demise but to his salvation. The fishermen release Tiddler for being too small, but - like Nemo - he finds himself lost in a strange, distant part of the ocean. What leads Tiddler back home, interestingly enough, is his fame!
Yes, Tiddler's stories have spread so far and wide that one of them is known even in these far reaches of the ocean. Tiddler follows their tellings like breadcrumbs - from the shrimp, who heard it from a whale, who heard it from a herring - until he finds himself right back home.
So in the end, The Fish Who Cried Wolf validates creativity, celebrates the class clown and the joy that he brings us, and even suggests that a career might lie ahead for a child who takes his or her talent for invention seriously.
Author Donaldson clearly takes her own talent seriously. The Scottish author of The Gruffalo (also with Scheffler) weaves in repetition that should be appealing to younger readers with casual rhymes that stop well-short of "sing-songy" and oftentimes even require a page turn to find where they finish. The book kept this grown-up on his toes trying to locate the right rhythm!
Now if only Ms. Donaldson could still do something about that title!
Webmaster's note: Were you looking for a book to help you address lying with your child? Check out How Timbo Learned That Telling The Truth Really Does Work, downloadable from this site.
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