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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Tiddler, The Story-Telling Fish: OH, YES, HE DID!

Tiddler. The Story-Telling Fish. Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, 2007.
Alison Green Books, Scholastic Children's Books, 2010.

Click above to listen to the way we read Tiddler, The Story-Telling Fish. 

I have gradually come round to thinking this may be one of the best stories for reading aloud to under two-year-olds (and over) we have. It has a flowing, effortless rhythm, becoming almost a gentle rap when you read it out loud, plus plenty of repetition and opportunities to join in.

The story
Tiddler is a little fish that "blows small bubbles but tells tall tales". Every day he arrives late for fish school and every day his excuse is a taller tale, ranging from having been riding on a seahorse to having been trapped in a treasure chest and set free by a mermaid. At school nobody really believes him except impressionable Little Johnny Dory, who is so excited by his stories that he tells them to his granny, who in turn tells them to a plaice, and thus the stories are spread across the ocean. One day while dreaming up his next fantasy, he actually gets to live a real adventure of his own. Poor little Tiddler gets fished!

Fortunately, the fishermen throw him back because he is too small, but Tiddler is lost, frightened and does not know how to get back. But then he hears a rather familiar story about himself being chanted by a shoal of anchovies, and follows the story across the ocean from shrimp to whale to herring to eel to lobster to seal, back home and to his classroom, where, as always, nobody believes him except Little Johnny Dory, who does something rather special for Tiddler at the end.  

The Illustrations
Axel Scheffler's vivid and colourful pen, ink and pencil illustrations, full of detail and expressiveness, really come to life in Tiddler.

By the time we got Tiddler, my son was already acquainted with Scheffler's illustrations from The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom, so he took to these immediately. We really like all the different types of fish and all the sea life -Tiddler was responsible for my son's octopus and shark phase- and the fish school scenes are very good fun. And then of course, there is the gruffalo fish that pops up midway through the book. I think it was one of the first times I saw my son laugh for a reason other than tickling or hearing a funny noise.

Here are some illustrations from Tiddler:

Opening  double page spread, with Tiddler at the centre of the first page
and some of his excuses for arriving late portrayed on the second page

Mermaid rescuing Tiddler with a shark lurking about

Granny Dory telling Tiddler's story to her friend the plaice

Tiddler being captured by the net!

Reading it out loud

When we first got Tiddler, and the first couple of times I read it, I have to say I was not too sure about it. There was something about the story, in particular the ending, that seemed to fall flat. But the more we read it out loud, the more we got into the flowing rhythm and the more our son enjoyed it. It has a wonderful musicality and a few nice repetitive structures for small listeners to join in. It quickly became one of our favourites.

Tiddler was our son's first goodnight story. We always read other bedtime stories before, on the sofa, but Tiddler was the first story we took into his own bedroom to read to him just before he dropped off to sleep.

One of the interesting things about reading it out loud is the different effects it can have depending on the speed at which you read it. Because it was our son's goodnight story every single night for a good few months, we realised that when he was very tired we were reading it to him very quickly, almost rapping it. Perfect for a sleepy boy. But then other times, for more alert moods, we read it more slowly and allow time for stopping, looking, pointing and joining in. The recording is probably somewhere in between:

Our son joins in every time Miss Skate calls the register at fish school:
"Tiddler? Tiddler? TIDDLER'S LATE!":

And in every "Oh no, s/he didn't", "OH, YES, S/HE DID"!

Other comments
Since the Tiddler months, we have had briefer bedtime flirts with Eric Carle's The Very Quiet Cricket, Donaldson and Scheffler's The Snail and the Whale, and Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram's Guess How Much I Love You, a very long love story with Maurice Sendak's The Nutshell Library every single night for months and, a recent move, on to The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say, but I'm sure he'll return to Tiddler at some point.

Tiddler is "The boy who cried wolf" (in fact it was even released in some places as The fish who cried wolf) with the moral refreshingly left out.

I'm still not sure about the ending, though.

(c) of all illustrations in this post, Axel Scheffler, 2007.

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