Quick Pick: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen with pictures by Dan Hanna

What’s a fish to do when he has a natural-born frown? The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen with pictures by Dan Hanna

By Christine Brovelli-O’Brien, Ph.D., Content Contributor 

The Pout-Pout Fish book cover

“Turn that frown upside-down!” It’s an oldie-but-goodie idiom that author Deborah Diesen uses to propel the plot in The Pout-Pout Fish, her children’s socio-emotional book for early learners from pre-K through second grade. As Mr. Fish swims around his water world spreading what he calls the “dreary-wearies” (a.k.a., his resting sad face), he runs into various neighbors who implore him to just stop frowning already. He explains to them all – in poetic form – how this is just who he is, and he can’t change.

You might have had this book on your shelf for a while and you might have used it to talk about feelings, but there’s an ocean of possibilities for using The Pout-Pout Fish to introduce STEM concepts to young learners.

One of the cool things about this book is how Diesen incorporates sea life that may not necessarily be Mr. Fish’s friendly neighbors. Have students research (either in small groups or as a class) the qualities, habits, and habitats of all these creatures. In real life, would these creatures live in the same place as Mr. Fish? What other creatures live in the ocean? Would they be a friend or foe? Why or why not? These types of questions are a great jumping-off point for further scientific inquiry of the creatures. How do their different body parts help with locomotion? What’s the difference between how fins and how tentacles work? Why do fish have scales?

First- and second-graders can expand on their scientific knowledge by writing a story of their very own. Ask students to pick an ocean friend and think about what problems that the creature, might encounter. Does the squid think she has too many tentacles? Does the puffer fish think he’s too puffy? Thinking about how Mr. Fish deals with everyone always on his case about his constant frown, how might these creatures resolve their own concerns about appearance and behaviors that other people/creatures don’t understand?

If they’d like, instead of writing out their story in a traditional format, kids also can illustrate their own one-page, four-panel graphic novel of their story. Pre-draw four to six panels on a piece of white paper, then glue it onto a colored piece of construction paper to create a frame for the comic. This can help visual learners to see the flow of a story’s narrative.

Here’s a fun activity you can do with younger readers: construct Mr. Fish art. Using pre-cut fish shapes made out of paper plates, have the kids glue small pieces of colored tissue paper “scales.” They can also use markers or paint to draw facial features. They get to decide whether he has a frown or a smile!  

Illustrated with gorgeous watercolor scenes by Dan Hanna, The Pout-Pout Fish is one of fifteen books Diesen’s series about the perpetually grimace-faced Mr. Fish. The book’s rhythm, rhyme, and repetition make it a fun choice to read aloud. And without giving the secret of how he does it, we can tell you that Mr. Fish eventually realizes that looks can be deceiving, and he gets his happy ending full of “cheery-cheeries.”