How identifiable is an individual goldfish, anyway?
Jeffrey’s goldfish, Splotch, is fine when the dark-haired, pale-skinned boy bids it goodbye as he leaves for school, but by noon, it’s floating upside-down and has X’s for eyes. Dialogue and time notations offer readers a sparse, clever aid to decoding this mostly-visually-told plot. At noon, Mom (who shares Jeffrey’s coloring) exits the bathroom holding a dripping net while a curious black cat looks on. Heartbreak-avoidance techniques involve Frank’s Fish World (clued by telltale bags), benevolent deception, and the grand question of how important the exact shape of a fish’s white splotch is. At midnight, Jeffrey sits bolt upright, realizing that a certain new fish isn’t his old fish; the epiphany shows up on the page as Jeffrey’s eyes open wide in horror, his mental images of two fish (old and new) separated by a “not-equal” sign and three huge red exclamation marks. Can fish run away? Has old Splotch been changed by aliens? When exactly does Jeffrey realize what’s going on, and when does he decide to reverse emotional roles with his mother? Marino uses fine pencil lines, half-cartoony faces that blend wryness and sincerity, water-textured gouache on watercolor paper, and easygoing visual patterns to make illustrations that highlight the plot but are visually friendly.
Despite the dead fish, this isn’t about grief; it’s about anxious, humane, funny attempts to protect loved ones from sadness. (Picture book. 5-8)