The Children's Bookshelf: Fish Girl

Dec 5, 2017

This week on The Children's Bookshelf, Dr. Sue Ann Martin takes a look at the fascinating graphic novel "Fish Girl." It's recommended for readers ages 10 to 12.


“Fish Girl,” written by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by David Wiesner, is the first graphic novel for both the highly-praised Golden Kite winner Napoli and the triple Caldecott medalist Wiesner. They have uniquely combined the storied world of fantasy with the clear hard edges of the realistic world.

There is a dark undercurrent running throughout the story. A mermaid who is held captive in an aquarium along with other fish friends at a boardwalk establishment called Ocean Wonders must obey the rules set by the King of the Sea, Neptune!

Livia comes to Ocean Wonders with her family to hopefully get a glimpse of Fish Girl. When she goes into a room off limits to the public, she finally sees Fish Girl up close. Livia soon suspects that she is not a mermaid but possibly an ordinary girl. After several more visits she and Fish Girl slowly develop a friendship. Gradually Fish Girl starts to doubt Neptune’s identity and the story he has always told her about saving her when she was a baby. In time, she ventures outside the tank and even outside the walls of Ocean Wonders and sees for herself that Neptune does not own her, that he has lied to her and held her prisoner in an aquarium her whole life!

The multiple illustrations of Fish Girl reacting to her discovery that she is human and has human legs are beautiful as is the double page illustration of Fish Girl on a moonlit seashore with arms outstretched to embrace her new found identity and possible freed .  All the illustrations are color luscious and rich in details including the final illustration of the destruction of Ocean Wonders by violent stormy waves. 

Fish Girl, written by David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by David Wiesner is a compelling graphic novel for readers age 10-12 (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 2017. This is Sue Ann Martin for The Children’s Bookshelf.

 Questions and Activities for Fish Girl

Mira (aka Fish Girl) has found her freedom and a human friend by the end of this story. What do you think happens to her next? The man who ran Ocean World (aka Neptune) has been displaced and has been questioned by the police. What do you think happens to him next? Extend the story by writing a paragraph about either Mira or the owner of Ocean Wonders in answer to this question. Use your imagination.

Study two exquisite double-page illustrations: the picture of Mira standing on the sandy moonlit seashore looking at the vastness with her arms extended AND the  picture of the waves churning and beginning to tear down the structure of Ocean Wonders. What makes these two illustrations so powerful? How do they both make you feel? Neither of these two illustrations contain words. Create a one word title for each illustration that captures your feelings when you gaze upon each picture.

What does Mira discover when she looks through the papers, photographs, letters and bills on Neptune’s desk? How do these pieces of evidence help her put her real story of identity and captivity together?

Trace the development of the friendship between Fish Girl and Livia. Who takes the first step? How does Livia come up with the name of Mira for Fish Girl? What do they each give the other as a present? Why does Livia get into the fish tank with Mira? What does their friendship say about all successful friendships?