Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni
Alfred A. Knopf, 1970
At the edge of the woods there was a pond, and there a minnow and a tadpole swam among the weeds. They were inseparable friends.
The plot in a nutshell: A fish dreams of life beyond his pond.
The friendship between the tadpole and the minnow changes when the tadpole grows legs and becomes a frog. He goes off to see the world and comes back to tell the fish about what he’s seen. As he describes birds and cows and people, the fish imagines them as looking very fish-like and he badly wants to explore the world and see them for himself. So he gathers up all his courage and leaps out of the pond, landing on the ground nearby and gasping for air, since he is unable to breathe out of the water. The frog comes back and pushes him back into the water and the fish appreciates his pond and his existence as a fish in a whole new way.
Once again, author/illustrator Leo Lionni uses animals to tell a contemporary fable with a life lesson inside it. I have seen some criticism of the book from people who interpret the book to be suggesting that we accept our lot in life without trying to rise above our station or reach for our dreams. I disagree with this assessment and feel that it’s more along the lines of the Serenity Prayer, which calls for acceptance of things we cannot change. The fish in this story puts his life in danger seeking an unattainable goal and when he receives (again from the Serenity Prayer) ‘the wisdom to know the difference,’ he discovers a way to find joy in what he has. Looking at it this way, it feels like a good message.
The illustrations are wonderful, especially in the pictures were we get to see how the fish is imagining the creatures that the frog has seen. I think it’s a neat touch that the fish sees everything as a modified type of fish, showing the limitations of his experiences, yet they are vibrant and colorful, showing that he has the capacity for thinking beyond those limitations. It’s a clever way of reminding the reader how often we see things through our own personal filters. This book has recently been re-released as a Step Into Reading book (Step 3) for those ready to start reading on their own.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that always wanting something more distracts you from appreciating what you already have.