11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
E. R. Bird
- Published on Amazon.com
After bursting onto the children's literature scene with his aunt's, "America the Beautiful", Chris Gall turns his sights on one of my favorite picture book tropes: wacked out kookiness. In the style of such greats as Eric Rohmann and David Wiesner, Gall has brought a unique illustration style to bear upon a silly wonderful idea. If the storytelling (which he happens to be quite good at) doesn't get you, the multi-faceted fish will. Beautiful and bizarro.
When Peter Alan visited the beach with his family, he had a wonderful time. Such a good time, in fact, that he found a bottle and placed the following note in it: "Dear Fish, Where you live is pretty cool. You should come visit us someday. Plus my Mom makes good pies. Sincerely, Peter Alan". Peter has no idea, however, of what he has wrought until next morning. Suddenly, the town is infested with curious fish. They're in Peter's bathtub and popping up in people's popcorn. They're being blown up like balloons and "helping" out at the beauty parlor. It's a bit of a problem. Peter comes home from school feeling, "more than a little slimy" so he writes a very nice thank-you note to the fish hinting broadly that it's time to leave. The fish take the hint and everything returns back to normal. That is, until Peter finds a note in a bottle on the shore not long thereafter. A note reading, "Dear Humans..."
A good illustrator (i.e. Gall) is one thing. A good illustrator who knows how to write for children, however, is entirely another. Gall has a very good ear for writing sentences that lend themselves to reading aloud. The book is punctuated with sounds like, "a crash, a smash, a wiggling and a jiggling". Or , "chomping and a slurping, a gnawing and a burping". None of this comes across as forced or feeling like the artist is trying too hard. I can't imagine anything worse than a book this purty ruined by bad writing. By the way, on Gall's endpapers he places all the fish that appear in this book with clear and concise labels saying what their names are. There is also a small note reading, "There are 10 fish puns within the pictures of this book. Can you find them?". I'm twenty-eight years old and I found six at most. Be sure to check both the front AND the endpapers since different fish are labeled on both. And since the library I work in is the kind of library that tends to glue such covers directly to the books (shudder) I know some of this information will be lost. Lackaday.
As for the pictures themselves, they definitely resemble brightly colored woodcuts. A quick glance at the publication page, however, and we find that they are created by (deep breath everyone), "hand engraving clay-coated board and then digitizing with Adobe Illustrator for adjustments and color". I haven't a clue what that means ("clay-coated board", when said aloud, sounds like a colloquial way of phrasing one's own boredom), but however it's done, it's drop dead gorgeous in the end. If I could frame any print from this book I would take the image of the mother with the octopus on her head and place it on my wall to look at each and every day. Lovely lovely loveliness. There are also some nice little details that could get lost in all the eye-popping splendor. For example, when a school of fish invade a children's classroom (that's ONE pun I found), you can definitely see a kid holding his nose at the onslaught. One stinky fish is one thing. Dozens and dozens of stinky fish is quite another.
What's most interesting about these pictures, though, is the time period Gall has placed these pictures in. It's veeeery 1950s. From Mom going to the beauty parlor and baking pies to Dad building a treehouse, mowing the lawn, and loading up the old wood-sided station wagon, Gall has set his story firmly in small-town America. All the usual tropes are here. Baseball games, rodeos, and small classrooms with chalkboards. Nostalgia is very big in picture books these days, and Gall is obviously making use of the fact. If that's your bag, cool. If not, just know what this book is like beforehand.
"Dear Fish" bears perhaps the greatest resemblance to David Wiesner's, "Tuesday". Simply substitute frogs for fish. Just the same, "Dear Fish" stands entirely on its own. It doesn't overdo the puns (thank heavens) and is just a great story to read to children. The fact that you'll stare entranced at the purdy pictures is just a bonus, really. In a word, stunning. Well worth a glance or two.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
M. Allen Greenbaum
- Published on Amazon.com
Usually I can tell that I'm reading an exceptional book within the first 2-3 pages; in fact, sometimes just the cover will suggest that the illustrator and story are extaordinarily good, and that the reader is in for a treat.
Such is the case with award-winning illustrator Chris Gall's book, "Dear Fish." HIs style recalls several threads in American illustration: The bold graphics of 1940-50's advertising, the homey, small-town appeal of Norman Rockwell, the bizarrely vivid colors and exaggerated images of comic books. Gall's illustrations make this book, and he places them within a wacky but just-reasonable-enough story that one very gladly suspends disbelief. HIs pretext is that young Peter Alan, beguiled by the sea and its residents, throws a message in a bottle into the ocean:
"Dear Fish, Where you live is pretty cool. You should come visit us someday. Plus my Mom makes good pies. Sincerely, Peter Alan".
Apparently, Peter knows the hearts and mind of fish, because they take him up on his offer, slowly at first, and then with increasing rapidity. A solitary fish glopinto Peter's bathroom, interrupting the sound of his tooth-brushing with "dripping and a flipping, a flopping and a gugling."
NOt long after, catfish are "gnawing and burping" on Mr. Adam's lawn, the tentacles of jelly fish grab at jars of peanut butter (this must be one of the 10 "puns" that Galls mentions), and little Sally finds herself blowing up a blowfish instead of a balloon.
At a nearby ballpark, the fish insinuate themselves into hot dog buns and popcorn bags, and even Casey McGraw's bat looks suspiciously like a barracuda. At the rodeo, Cole Trenton ("the roughest, toughest, stinkiest cowboy that ever rode a steer) is bucked two counties away by a bucking....shark!
This immensely enjoyable work succeeds on both the narrative and visual dimentsion. Gall's allusions to "Casey at the Bat," Tug McGraw, and traditional children's book descriptions of cowboy illustrate his keen observation and appreciation of American history and folklore. He borrows some of the most popular icons of popular culture and affectionately explodes them with his fish tale. There are some stunning two-page spreads as well, including a hot air balloon lifted by a floating whale, and a school full of (a school of) big orange "big-eyes." (I know that's their name only because Gall nicely labels pictures of his fish on the endpapers.
As you might expecrt, this invasion "is a little more than Peter Alan expected." He writes another letter, politing stating that "you are nice, but you are fish." "Plus," he writes, "I think I hear your mothers calling." After much cleaning, and promises by Peter that he won't throw a fish non-fry again, he's allowed back at the beach, where he finds a letter from the fish to the "Humans." In a wonderful and swift surprise conclusion, we see Peter and his family driving a woody hitched to a 1950's trailor. (Perhaps the fish will resort to a letter similar to the one Peter wrote: You are nice, but you are humans.)
Full of humor, wit, and spectacular illustrations, this is an inventive and highly original work that kids and adults will enjoy. The density of the illustrations and the quirky situations will ensure repeated readings, and a spot on the bookshelf reserved for favorites. For 2008, the first book in my annual list of the top 20 kids' books I've read each year.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Anne B. Levy
- Published on Amazon.com
Note to self: Do not write "snail mail" to actual snails.
Doing so might seem harmless enough, but when Peter Alan caps a perfect day at the beach by tossing a note to his finny friends, they come a-calling:
Where you live is pretty cool. You should come visit us someday. Plus my Mom makes good pies.
The next day finds catfish mowing a lawn, puffer fish as birthday ballons, and an octopus who gives new meaning to bad hair day. It's all in surreal good fun, but little Peter eventually has to disinvite his smelly, slimy visitors.
That's okay -- the story ends with a reciprocal invitation tucked into a conch shell.
Gall hand-engraved the images on clay-coated board, then digitized the color. The result feels straight out of old Art Deco posters, but in a more contemporary palette of autumn tones and ocean hues.
Watch for visual puns on every page: the sea horses at the rodeo, mice running from the catfish, etc. Even the end papers will keep you busy.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
K. A. Stevenson
- Published on Amazon.com
One beautiful day at the beach, "when even the seagulls were on their best behavior," a magical message is inserted into a bottle and thrown into the sea:
Dear Fish: You should visit us someday. Plus my Mom makes good pies.
Well... just what exactly happens when the fish take Peter up on his invitation and go on a magical "field trip??"
Dear Fish is the hilarious and very cute story, which reveals the "flipping and the flopping; the gurgling and the slurping..." of fish on their adventurous trip out of water! Delightful illustrations depict "fish on vacation" as they hit home runs, buck off cowboys at rodeos, assist in the building of tree houses and more!
Chris Gall's talents are wonderfully showcased in this terrific kid's book. If you enjoyed his previous book America the Beautiful, as much as I did - Dear Fish is not to be missed! I promptly ordered 10 copies for all the young and old (but very young at heart) people in my life.
Now, we'll just have to wait to see what happens when the fish reciprocate the invitation and Peter's family visit them ....Under the Sea!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Amanda J. Henning
- Published on Amazon.com
This book was spectacular from cover to cover! The illustrations are so rich and detailed, that it would be an ideal storytime read. Gall's narration is complex and elegant, and the pace is fast without being too fast. I review quiet a few picture books each month (60+), and very very few manage to have that illusive magical quality that we all remember from our favorite children's books. This book deserves to be a new children's classic, heartily recommended!