What’s an animal to do when it’s been voted the “world’s ugliest animal”? The Blobfish by Jessica Olien
Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., Content Contributor
In a list of definitive “ugly cute” creatures, Blobfish would find itself near the top with few competitors, and Jessica Olien’s illustrated critter, featured in her picture book The Blobfish Book, is no exception.
As Olien provides informative descriptions of the “sciency” parts of the deep sea to drive the storyline, Blobfish inserts himself into every scene, chattering away while waiting for his big moment. Olien’s genius is in her creation of parallel conversations between Blobfish and the author and also between Blobfish and the reader, a super-cool narrative technique that informs the readers and captures our hearts. With his healthy self-esteem, Blobfish wants his “me, me, me” moment and when it does come, it’s swift and doesn’t go as planned (does it ever, really?).
A great starting point of conversation with readers of all ages is the socio-emotional aspect of the book because it’s one to which kids (and, let’s be honest, adults) can relate: Everyone’s struggled with finding their place in the big, wide world. Blobfish is focused on his physical appearance and, when he discovers that not everyone views him as the most amazing-looking guy in the deep sea, he suffers an emotional setback. “It’s just because people don’t understand you,” explains Northern Stoplight Loosejaw, a scary-looking fish who himself is misunderstood. “We have deep-sea animals have to stick together,” exclaims Giant Spider Crab. This working together, can-do attitude is one that’s beneficial to young kids, one that adults can/should reinforce over and over again.
Children in primary grades can emulate the friendship between Blobfish and the other sea animals by brainstorming positive descriptions of their classmates, a list of which you can generate on the board.
In addition to (or instead of) discussing classmates, you can have students choose a sea creature from the “Cast of Characters” provided in the back of the book to turn into the star of the show. Turn this into a pictorial essay works well, too, especially with kindergarten students who may not be able to articulate their ideas in writing. Ask the kids to illustrate their chosen creature on a piece of paper and, for older students, to jot down positive descriptions of the animal. Share with the class so the kiddos can see how their interpretations are similar and/or different than those of their classmates. It’s a great way to emphasize the exciting ways that diverse viewpoints shape our world.
One of Olien’s strengths is the integration of fact and fiction. The Blobfish is pretty darn cute, but don’t forget about all the other awesome things going on in the deep sea. The “More Amazing Deep-Sea Facts” list that Olien includes at the end provides you with an easy segue into discussion about the mysterious underwater world. Introduce kids to the realities of sea life by watching videos (National Geographic and Animal Planet, for example, offers a variety of options on their websites), talking about how these animals play an important role in our ecosystem, and why it’s important to protect the earth’s endangered species.
More than just a story about anthropomorphic sea creatures, Jessica Olien’s The Blobfish is an amalgam of fact, fiction, and fantasy that captures our hearts and keeps our attention. I mean, with such cool neighbors, who wouldn’t want to live in the deep sea?