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Fish Don’t Play Ball

For a book with such an intriguing title, this is something of a disappointment.

Bob is a dog who is wrong-footed when his owner, a small boy called Sam, brings home a new pet: a goldfish, called Fish.  Bob decides that Fish must be bored, as he does virtually nothing, and contrives to help him by giving him some things to play with.  His attempts to give Fish a blanket, take him for a walk , or play ball with him are met with Sam’s disapproval and he is sent to his basket.   In the end Sam feeds Fish some fishfood and Bob concludes ruefully that at least they both like eating.

Although the suggestions that the fish might like to play ball or go for a walk are quite funny, the tame ending falls flat – why would the obvious fact that they both eat make Bob decide that fish are ok?  In addition, the writing is clumsy and basic: “But when Sam saw Bob drop his lead into Fish’s bowl, he got cross”; “It looked a bit… ….well, not much fun, actually”.  Commas are used poorly and inaccurately, there are far too many bits of ellipsis and worst of all the speech punctuation is wrong in a couple of places.

Emma McCann’s illustrations are bright and exciting but the text of the book does not live up to the cheerful promise of the front cover.

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Tiddler (the story-telling fish)

“Once there was a fish and his name was Tiddler.

He wasn’t much to look at with his plain grey scales.

But Tiddler was a fish with a big imagination.

He blew small bubbles but he told tall tales.”

These delightful lines are the opening to Tiddler, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (of Gruffalo fame).  Tiddler is the aquatic equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.  He is always late for school and concocts more elaborate excuses with each passing day.  His classmates don’t believe him (“”It’s only a story,” said Rabbitfish and Redfin, “Just a silly story,” said Dragonfish and Dab”) except for Little Johnny Dory, who repeats Tiddler’s tall tales to his Granny.  However, one day, whilst dreaming up his ‘tallest story yet’ Tiddler is accidentally caught in a fisherman’s net.  Although they throw him back to sea, he is far away from home.  But then he hears a story he recognises…

Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are at their best in this book, as the underwater theme allows him to pack lots of detail into every scene and the colours are vibrant and exciting.  (There is even a cheeky cameo from a Gruffalofish!)  The rhymes are clever and the repeated sections work well for young readers to anticipate lines (“Tiddler? Tiddler? Tiddler’s LATE!”) which makes for enjoyable, interactive reading.

If you are reading this out loud, try adopting different voices for the different fish, particularly in the final section where Tiddler traces his stories back to their source.  With older children you could even discuss what voices you might expect from a lobster, an eel, a whale and a shrimp!  With younger ones, take advantage of the detailed pictures and expand their vocabulary playing ‘find the octopus/jellyfish’ or count the starfish and eels.

A great book with lots of potential for enjoyment.