Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming, illustrations by Boris Kulikov
Based on a true story, this picture book reads more like a far-fetched fantasy. Papa is an inventor but has never made anything that works. All he needs is one incredible idea, but they don’t come easily. So the family takes a trip to the lake where one of the children, the narrator of the book, asks what it is like to be a fish. That gives Papa the incredible idea he was looking for. The first version of his mechanical fish is so small that Papa himself can barely fit into it. It almost works. The second version is bigger and has a fin and a propeller and seats two people. It almost works. Whitefish III is even bigger, seats three, and is covered in copper. It almost works too. The fourth version is huge, fits the entire family, and… Well, you just have to read the story to see how it ends.
The whimsy of these inventions is a large part of what makes this book so successful. From the slow progress of the machines from one version to the next to the joy of seeing them tried out in the story, this is a book where you must find out what happens next. Fleming has also written a charming story of a family that supports the inventor. There is a rhythm to the story that makes it a pleasure, each attempt and failure met with similar satisfying responses from his family. This makes the book work for a larger age range and makes reading it all the more fun.
Kulikov’s illustrations are a mix of realistic illustrations, huge fish that float past as inspiration in the water, and blueprints that let you glimpse the inside of each version of the submarine. The entire book has a wonderful frantic quality to it, engaging the reader right in the moment of Aha! and then through the different trials.
A treat of a book, this book will be inspiring to young engineers and inventors. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.