The Magic Fish

written by Freya Littledale
illustrated by Winslow Pinney Pels

Freya Littledale's The Magic Fish
illustrated by Winslow Pinney Pels

Book review by Dimitrios Sokolakis

Ages 4-8

A children's book about greed

A poor fisherman sets free a magic fish that can make wishes come true; a greedy wife instructs him to ask for more and more from the fish and…. well, you can probably guess that the ending won't be happy. “For greed all nature is too little,” Seneca said; the story is a perfect proof of this famous quote.

Although the story deals with a common - and perhaps, by now, trite - moral that greed is wrong, somehow I feel that that such an invaluable lesson bears repeating again and again to both ourselves (i.e. parents) and children, so as to make sure it becomes a way of living for all.

Book review - The Magic Fish

Once upon a time there was a poor fisherman who was living with his wife in a hut by the sea. Every day the fisherman went fishing (unexpected, huh?); this one day he lands a big orange fish.

Freya Littledale illustration

And the good fisherman put it back in the water.

Later that day his wife was badgering him for not catching a single fish, so the fisherman told her how he had encountered a magic fish. (And not asked it for anything!)

“Silly man,” she said. “Go back to the fish and tell it I wish for a pretty house.”

"Why?” asked the man.

“Go,” said the wife, so he went back to the sea (you can see who wears the pants in the family).

The fisherman summoned the fish and asked it for a pretty house. “Go home,” the fish said; “now you have a pretty house.” And so, the fisherman saw, they now did. The fisherman was happy and so was his wife, but her happiness didn’t last for long.

After a week his wife asked for a castle.

“Why?” the fisherman asked.

“Never mind why… Go,” the wife said, so the fisherman went back to the sea to request a castle.

After a while a pretty castle replaced the new house. The fisherman was happy, so was his wife but, again, her satisfaction ebbed. Two weeks later, the wife ordered her husband to request from the fish for her to become queen of the land; this wish came true as well.

The couple’s happiness now lasted for three weeks; then, the wife wanted to become queen of the sun, the moon and the stars (quite ambitious, don’t you think?). “Go!” she ordered her husband who again obeyed.

Only, this was the last time. The fish got upset and took everything back. The end! No happy ending.

The Magic Fish

Greed: one of the seven deadly sins. For reasons that don't have to be religion based, the constant desire to acquire or possess more than one needs, especially with respect to material wealth, will not make anyone happier or spiritually completed. The story makes the point.

The Magic Fish is classic and can serve as a reminder to our little monsters every time they ask for more (toys, clothes etc.), or when they need to be reminded they have the big things, i.e. health and love. It is a simple story that makes sense to children, parents and… well, parents’ wallets.

Extra credit: I liked the fact that the “once upon a time” opening didn’t finish with “they lived happily ever after”. Typical story with no typical ending: good catch!

Room for improvement:

Although pictures reveal a great artist I found them a bit scary for 4 to 5-year-olds. Fine for elder kiddos.

Something more: I didn’t like the inconsistency of just the wife asking for more and more and the husband just doing what she tells him. It’s an old stereotype that could have been avoided if the fisherman had had a more active role in couple’s decisions.


The Magic Fish: a classic story that no parent should miss.

Webmaster's note: The Magic Fish is based on an old folktale told in many cultures but most notably remembered as The Fisherman and His Wife in a Brothers Grimm collection. More Grimm Fairy Tales.

Read more of Dimitrios's reviews.

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