A timid little fish named Pax finds the key to confidence in this debut picture book.
In a simple setting inspired by Seneca Lake (in upstate New York), rendered in round shapes and soft colors, Mama Perch encourages her young offspring, Pax, to join the fun at a nearby waterfall. But Pax, shyly “hiding in the waterweeds,” feels too self-conscious about his swimming prowess to venture out, especially if he thinks that anyone is watching. His mother reminds him of an important phrase—“Aww, Fishsticks”—that “Pampy” (not identified, but Pax’s absent father, perhaps) would say to himself as a mantra for bravery when he felt fearful. Pax sets out for the waterfall but soon forgets his reassuring chant when all of the creatures that he encounters—assorted swimming fish, a leaping fawn, a paddling beaver, a buzzing bee, a soaring butterfly, and more—offer warnings and advice. Even their compliments throw Pax off because they remind him that he’s being observed. (A nice comic touch: three conflicting observations about Pax’s chances for success delivered by a “Smiling Frog,” a “Doubting Frog,” and a “Frowning Frog.”) What are the words that will help Pax concentrate on himself instead of on what others have to say? He can’t remember. Is it “Aww, Bubbles?” “Aww, Tadpoles?” “Aww, Minnows?” When the right words come back to him, Pax swims “like he never swam before,” realizing that “It’s what I think that matters!” The lively illustrations, along with text designed graphically for visual interest and written with wordplay to be shared and repeated (“swish,” “glub,” “buzz,” “flip,” “flap”), frame this unsubtle message with sunny appeal. The author and her collaborative illustrator add a mild layer of engagement with a seek-and-find activity: children can look for illustrations throughout the pages that match silhouettes of a squirrel, a ladybug, a leaf, a raccoon, and a bear. The book ends with photographs of the real-life flora and fauna that are featured in the story.
A likable volume with a message of empowerment for young children, wrapped in a gentle fish tale.