Papa's Mechanical Fish

illus. by Boris Kulikov. 32p. bibliog. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson. June 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-374-39908-5.
RedReviewStarGr 2–4—This picture book is a fictional account based on events in the life of eccentric inventor Lodner Phillips as told from the perspective of his daughter, Virena. Papa theorizes and tinkers but never succeeds. Finally, while the family is dropping lines from a pier into Lake Michigan, his daughter asks, "have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?" Immediately the man dashes back to his workshop and soon produces one of the world's earliest submarines, the Whitefish. Children will delight in the way Virena is the catalyst for her father's successive improvements to his primitive vessel as she continues to ask questions: about how fish move through water, stay dry, and know where they are going. Kulikov's luminous, playful, detailed illustrations on full-bleed spreads incorporate a variety of perspectives, including close-up views of fish and of Papa underwater and cutaway diagrams of his creations. An afterword is included. The exuberant and inquisitive tone of this book is sure to entertain curious children.—Anne Barreca, New York Public Library
Biographer (Amelia Lost, rev. 3/11) and picture-book-fiction author (Oh, No!, rev. 9/12) Fleming presents a story that's "almost true" -- based on the work of unsung nineteenth-century inventor Lodner Phillips. Young narrator Virena's eccentric papa is indefatigable; unfortunately, none of his inventions -- from edible socks to steam-powered roller skates -- quite works. Then, at Virena's inadvertent suggestion, he latches onto a big, important idea: "an underwater vessel...a mechanical fish." Through many iterations, he perfects his design, and though each launch is a flop, he learns something from every failure. Finally, the submarine Whitefish IV (with its innovative propulsion, steering, and air-purifying systems) is a success -- and the whole family goes along for the ride. Fleming's telling is lively, humorous, and specific. Everyone is involved in the process, from the narrator to the dog: "I think for a minute, then ask, 'Papa, how do fish move through the water?' 'With their tails?' says Cyril. 'With their fins?' adds Mary. 'Fishy go!' squeals the baby. 'Woof!' barks Rex." Illustrator Kulikov puts his own imaginative spin on the proceedings, populating Lake Michigan with enormous golden-scaled fish that echo the design of the Whitefish, and pacing the book with a variety of perspectives and page layouts. Just as Fleming uses a direct address ("This is my Papa"), so does Kulikov, with characters looking out at the picture-book audience and occasionally even mugging for the camera (especially the dog). Back matter includes a brief biography of submarine innovator Phillips and an extensive list of sources. martha v. parravano

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