Souhami gives “The Fisherman and His Wife” a hopeful twist.
Souhami’s backmatter author’s note explains that she wanted to retell this old tale with sympathy for the characters, whom she resists depicting as they appear in other versions: “a horrible, greedy and nagging old woman” and “a weak, hen-pecked milksop.” Instead, she presents a couple worn down by poverty who are grateful when the magic fish grants their wish for “a small dry cottage…a blue teapot…[a]nd some bread and cheese in the larder.” They’re satisfied for a month before greed brings them back to the sea with grander wishes for status and material wealth. The duration of the couple’s contentment diminishes with every new wish granted, until the fish finally returns them to their initial state of poverty. But Souhami doesn’t leave them in dire straits. Instead, a closing picture shows them happily trying to net fish above text that reads, “But I hope that they caught lots of ordinary fish to sell at the market. And that they gradually became happy. What do you think?” Along with this use of direct address, expressive collage art that evokes something of Margot Zemach’s style will engage readers with depictions of the increasingly exasperated magic fish and how the couple and their home are transformed from scene to scene with their increasing wealth.
A pleasingly solid retelling. (Picture book. 3-7)