BooKs on MondaY: Meet the Bestselling Author-Illustrator Team of the Children’s POUT-POUT Books

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By Leslie Lindsay 

If you’ve been around children’s literature of late, you’ll know this grumpy little fish has some dreary, weary days. Well, he’s back this holiday season but can’t seem to find any suitable gifts for the folks (fish), on his list…sigh!

Today, I am honored to have bestselling author-illustrator duo Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna with us to have a merry little chat about their newest creation, THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH. NOT VERY MERRY POUT POUT

Leslie Lindsay: How did you come up with the original Pout-Pout fish book in 2008?

Deborah DeiesnThe story grew out of an actual pout! One day many, many years ago, when my elder son was a preschooler, he was having a very grouchy afternoon. Hoping to amuse him, I made an exaggerated pouty face at him. He smiled and then pouted right back, which got us both laughing. “We look like fish,” I said. “Like pout-pout fish!” As soon as I said that out loud, it became a story idea. I jotted the idea down and I started writing The Pout-Pout Fish that same day. Years later, I started sending the story to publishers, and in 2005 it was accepted at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers. The book was published in 2008 and began a series of stories, all featuring Mr. Fish, his friends, and their adventures.

Leslie Lindsay: Since the first book, we’ve seen Mr. Fish go to school, learn to smile, face the dark, discover how to dream and play hide-and-seek. What do kids (and their parents) love most about the series?

Deborah Diesen: I think one of the things that makes Mr. Fish an appealing character for many kids and parents

is that kids and parents alike can identify with his experiences. Toddlers sometimes pout; so do adults! Preschoolers have things they’re scared of; so do adults! Kindergarteners get nervous about starting something new; so do adults! Mr. Fish’s experiences provide a way for kids and grown-ups to explore those issues together. In addition, the stories have rhyme, repetition, and wordplay, which are fun in a read-aloud book. And Dan Hanna’s illustrations! They’re fantastic.They truly bring the stories to life.

L.L.: What is Mr. Fish up to now? Does he have a case of the “dreary wearies” in the latest book, too?

Deborah Diesen: Mr. Fish’s newest adventure is called The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. In it, Mr. Fish is in a bit of a holiday panic, searching for perfect gifts for all of his friends. His shopping trip is unsuccessful, and Mr. Fish is sure that he’s let all of his friends down. But his friend Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart, and she helps him craft simple and meaningful presents to bring to the holiday party. His friends are delighted with their presents, and together everyone celebrates peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

L.L.: What do you hope young readers (ages 3-6) will learn from The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish? Is there a message here for grown-ups as well?

Deborah Diesen: I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy. Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all. A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile! These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring. It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well.

L.L.: Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving presents, rather than just receiving them, this holiday season?

Deborah Diesen: Kids love to give presents, and they especially love having an active role in the process of

creating the presents. Try a craft idea or project that’s extremely simple and stress-free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help. The more messy, lopsided, and imperfect the results the better! Have fun with the process, and as you do you’ll create not just gifts but memories as well.   

Leslie Lindsay: Since the first book, we’ve seen Mr. Fish go to school, learn to smile, face the dark, discover how to dream and play hide-and-seek. What do kids (and their parents) love most about the series?

Deborah Diesen: I think one of the things that makes Mr. Fish an appealing character for many kids and parents

is that kids and parents alike can identify with his experiences. Toddlers sometimes pout; so do adults! Preschoolers have things they’re scared of; so do adults! Kindergarteners get nervous about starting something new; so do adults! Mr. Fish’s experiences provide a way for kids and grown-ups to explore those issues together. In addition, the stories have rhyme, repetition, and wordplay, which are fun in a read-aloud book. And Dan Hanna’s illustrations! They’re fantastic.They truly bring the stories to life.

L.L.: Ooh, what a wonderful segue…Dan, what’s your  advice for aspiring picture book illustrators?

Dan Hanna: Buy one thousand parrots and place them in a room with a looped recording saying something like: “Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Then release the parrots, using a helicopter, over each of the major publishing houses. When the editors leave for lunch they’ll hear the parrots in the trees screeching,“Aaaaccck, Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Now I know this scheme seems rather elaborate, but it worked for me.

L.L.: Do you enjoy researching or do you prefer working totally from your imagination?

Dan Hanna: Initially I let my imagination run wild. Then I knock it out with a tranquilizer dart while I do some research.

Finally, my groggy imagination re-awakes, snarls angrily and then runs wild again. I’ve found that this approach works best for me.

L.L.: What is Mr. Fish up to now? Does he have a case of the “dreary wearies” in the latest book, too?

Deborah Diesen: Mr. Fish’s newest adventure is called The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. In it, Mr. Fish is in a bit of a holiday panic, searching for perfect gifts for all of his friends. His shopping trip is unsuccessful, and Mr. Fish is sure that he’s let all of his friends down. But his friend Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart, and she helps him craft simple and meaningful presents to bring to the holiday party. His friends are delighted with their presents, and together everyone celebrates peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

L.L.: What do you hope young readers (ages 3-6) will learn from The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish? Is there a message here for grown-ups as well?

Deborah Diesen: I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy. Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all. A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile! These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring. It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well.

L.L.: Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving presents, rather than just receiving them, this holiday season?

Deborah Diesen: Kids love to give presents, and they especially love having an active role in the process ofcreating the presents. Try a craft idea or project that’s extremely simple and stress-free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help. The more messy, lopsided, and imperfect the results the better! Have fun with the process, and as you do you’ll create not just gifts but memories as well.

For more information, teacher resources, order books, find activities, and more, please pop over to the POUT-POUT FISH website. 

Deborah D POUT POUT FISHDEBORAH DIESEN currently works for a small nonprofit organization and has also worked as a reference librarian and a bookseller. She lives in Grand Ledge, Michigan. You can learn more at her website

Dan POUT-POUT FISTDAN HANNA has over ten years’ experience in the animation industry, and his work has appeared on BBC America and the Cartoon Network. He lives in Santa Barbara, California. He is the illustrator of the Pout-Pout Fish books.You can learn more at his website

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook. Author/illustrator and cover images provided courtesy of A. Wike]

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