The Story of Fish & Snail


Written and Illustrated by Deborah Freedman

Viking, 2013

Every day…Snail sits in one special spot, waiting for Fish to come home with a story.

The plot in a nutshell:  An adventurous fish encourages a snail to break out of his routine.

Snail is waiting on the page of an open book when Fish swims by to say that he (or she?) has found a new book. Snail asks Fish to tell the story, but Fish wants to show the story instead. Snail is hesitant, wanting to stay where he is. Fish excitedly points out that the new book is about pirates and treasure, which makes Snail even more adamant to stay where he is and play kittens (so he can sleep). When Fish tries to say that sleeping cats are boring, Snail gets angry and they have an argument that results in Fish swimming out of the book and landing with a splash into the new book. Snail follows, calling for Fish, who is pleased to see Snail and opens the story with Snail as First-Cat-Mate-Snail.

This book was on a lot of ‘Best of 2013’ lists, and it’s fairly easy to see why. Author/illustrator Deborah Freedman gives us a lot to like about both the story and the artwork in this book about friendship. Their relationship is defined in the first sentence. Fish goes out and does the exploring and adventuring and Snail waits to hear about it. As readers, I’m sure we have all known that moment when telling someone isn’t good enough. We have to share the experience with them. So we understand when Fish asks Snail to come along for the story this time. I like that we get to see the two friends dealing with a conflict and coming out of it together in a way that makes them both happy.

Watch out for that first step...

Watch out for that first step…

The artwork adds a lot to the story, having all the action happen on the pages of open books. In the illustrations, the book pages are the only elements of the picture to have color. Everything in the background is shaded grey. When the two friends are having a conversation, the picture zooms in and the background disappears. This is their world and nothing else is important. But when they are arguing, we pull back again and the bookshelves behind them are back. It sets up an interesting ‘story within a story’ concept that invites readers to push back the boundaries of their own imaginations. The ending of the book, with the two friends off on an adventure is practically an invitation to come up with new stories for these two.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that when friends want different things, there’s always a compromise where everyone wins.


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