Bingbo (text), Liam How (translater), Gumi (illus.) Two Unhappy Fish Starfish Bay, February 2015, 32pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780994100269
This children’s picture book is by Starfish Bay Publishing, who source stories from around the world and translate them into English. Two Unhappy Fish is by renowned Chinese author, Bingbo, and illustrator, Gumi. Delightful, bright and colourful full page pictures of underwater scenes and cute characters (in a blend of watercolour and crayon) beautifully illustrate and enfold the text.
The story has a seemingly universal theme of embracing your own difference. When two lonely fish, believing themselves to be the ugliest in the ocean, meet, they are surprised by the others’ beauty and come to see themselves through the eyes of the other. Whilst embracing who you are is an important lesson for us all to learn, I must say the focus on children’s feelings of inadequacy about their looks had an unsettling effect on me, especially given the very young target age range from 3 years.
I applaud the publisher for making stories from other cultures accessible. Two Unhappy Fish is a simple and unsurprising story and I wonder if some delicacy and nuance in language is lost in translation? For me, the fascination is that it is translated from a different culture – I would like to have seen that aspect incorporated as a more integral part of the book.
reviewed by Debra Tidball