Fish feet…

posted in: Chris Wormell | 23
Photo: Laszlo-photo

With J’s current fish obsession we’re on the look out for books about fish at the moment. One Smart Fish by Chris Wormell was a chance find when we were visiting the Natural History Museum a few weeks back – it’s not a book I had previously heard of – but it’s now definitely one of J’s favourites so far this year.

One Smart Fish tells the story of a crucial evolutionary step – how many millions of years ago some fish left the sea and began life on land. It’s a big topic but through the use of stunning illustrations and perfectly pitched text, liberally sprinkled with humour, Wormell has written the ideal book for introducing the idea of evolution to young children.

Many pages are densely packed with a range of fish of all shapes, sizes, colours and texture, whilst the penultimate double page spread has a hugely detailed expanse of creatures surging out across the land showing the evolution from fish to – eventually – human beings. Like the earlier pictures of fish we can’t help pouring over the illustrations and playing “I spy” – just like we do when reading some other much enjoyed books of ours – Anno’s Journey or The History Puzzle.

One Smart Fish doesn’t attempt to deal with the science or evidence for evolution but it does introduce the concept of evolution exceptionally well. Both M and J find it funny yet brilliant that they are evolved from fish – this idea has really caught their imagination and M in particular has wanted to find out more. That Wormell’s book has so engaged my two kids and got them asking lots of questions is a testament to its brilliance.

Inspired by the range of beautiful and colourful fish in Wormell’s book we set about creating our own ocean full of fish. First I cut out lots of fish shapes from clear plastic containers I’ve been saving (strawberry punnets, for example). The girls used permanent markers (sharpies) to colour in and decorate the fish.

Next they had a lot of fun cleaning out an old fish tank that had been languishing amongst my pots at the back of the garden.

To make the fish appear to be swimming in the tank we attached two threads to each fish. One thread had a bead or a button attached at one end – the girls had an absolutely wonderful time investigating which of their beads and buttons would sink – an activity we have done again since as they enjoyed it so much. The other thread was attached to a small strip of bubble wrap to give the impression of bubbles coming out of the fishes mouths when they were in the water.

The fish tank was filled with water and then we added some sand – this made the water look a little dirty, but the idea was to make it seem more like the ocean than a sterile fish tank.

A few shells and some other marine life (ocotopi and sea horses) were added to complete our land beneath the waves.

We all had a great deal of fun creating this seascape – if you are inspired to do something similar, we’d love to hear about it πŸ™‚

One Smart Fish: *** (3 stars)

Some fishy music to create by:

  • Gone Fishin’ – by Bing Crosby & Louis Armstrong, an old classic!
  • The Fish Song by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • I Took My Fish a Walkin’ by Bill Dougal
  • The Tide Pool Song by Birdsong and the Eco-Wonders
  • The album Underwater Land by Shel Silverstein and Pat Dailey (reviewed here, by Zooglobble)
  • My Brother The Ape by They Might Be Giants – a fantastic kids’ song about evolution which we’re hopefully going to hear live later this week when we attend our first ever TMBG concert! Woo-hoo!

  • For more songs with an evolutionary theme you could take a look at Songs about Darwin and Evolution from Cells in Culture or Evolution Songs: Celebrating Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday from Gigwise.

    And some more fish activities that might work well alongside this book:

  • Drawing fishbowls, with this tutorial from Art for Small Hands
  • Fish tiles, perhaps for your bathroom, inspired by these at Handprint and Footprint Art
  • This fantabulous fishing game from Bread and Buttons
  • Or even our buckets full of fish made from jelly and sweets that we created to go alongside Billy’s Bucket

  • Having read One Smart Fish – the text of which is simple enough for J, at 2, to enjoy and easily follow, I then read the more complex How Whales Walked Into the Sea by Faith McNulty, Ted Rand, and Ted Lewin with M. If you can get hold of it I would urge you do do so as I cannot imagine a better follow-up read to One Smart Fish – it deals with the evolutionary step taken by one branch of mammals that returned to the sea, eventually resulting in whales. I first came across this book thanks to a review over at In need of Chocolate, where you can find a great series of posts about books for kids on evolution and prehistory. If you wanted a book for adults that would go really well with One Smart Fish and How Whales Walked Into the Sea, At the water’s edge by Carl Zimmer comes highly recommended by my wonderful husband!

    Now what about you? Do you have any favourite picture books about fish? Or about evolution?

    23 Responses

    1. Andi

      I love the fish tank idea – I want to make one never mind the kids! πŸ™‚

      “Swimmy” is a classic fish story that I love and “I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean” has been so well-read in my classroom that I think I need a new copy as the one I have is almost beyond repair. I guess a giant squid doesn’t really count as a fish, but it is a good book nonetheless.

    2. choxbox

      What a coincidence – we were reading another Chris Wormell book just yesterday – George, the Dragon and the Princess πŸ™‚

      Love your projects around books you read. You have boundless energy!

      Btw another excellent book for evolution is ‘The Story of Life on Earth’ by Nicholas Harris.

      We had borrowed it from our libe when my older child was 5 and she like it so much that we eventually bought our own copy. Is a big hit with the current 5 yr old now.

    3. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Andi, Yes, my girls love Swimmy, but I don’t know I’m the Biggest thing in the ocean – but it’s in our library system and I’ve just reserved it πŸ™‚ Thanks for the suggestion.

      Hi Choxbox, I WISH i did have boundless energy… πŸ˜‰ Thanks for the link to the Harris book. It is NOT in our library system πŸ™ But I’ll keep a note of it. BTW the weather is still looking good!

    4. choxbox

      And one more thing – in London at least you could become a member of the library system of a borough other than the one you lived in too. We were members of library systems of three boroughs, and had access to a fourth via a friend. Almost always found a book in one or the other of them.

      Am thinking this would be possible where you live too.

    5. Zoe

      Hi Choxbox, Thanks for the good thinking. The library I have access to is pretty large – 2,752,770 books in the system. Basically it is all the libraries in the second largest city in the UK so I can’t really complain. And of course I can order books from outside this system but it costs me nearly Β£5 for that – at which price I might as well buy the book for myself (at least when it comes to most kids’ books).

    6. choxbox


      And thats one thing I miss – the awesome library system! And have I told you – we lived across the road from one of the largest in London πŸ™‚

      Thankfully we do have a few very good private libraries.

    7. Sarah N.

      Zoe,thanks for mentioning my review and my prehistory series. We’ll definitely be looking for One Smart Fish and your seascape is fantastic!
      We’ve bee enjoying Tiddler by Julia Donaldson about a fish who makes up tall tales and a silly fish book we also discovered recently is Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins.

    8. Kristine

      I like the transparency of the fish. The picture of the tank reminded me of one of the pictures in A.Lester’s Imagine – where the children are playing with sea toys inside their aquarium.

    9. Zoe

      Hi Kristine, I’m off to find our copy of Imagine right now to have a look!

    10. Ian @ Tidy Books

      My son likes One Smart Fish. And it has led him to ask some brilliant questions. It actually reminded me to go and try and get a Tree of Life poster. The BBC were giving away a free copy of a wonderful illustration of Charles Darwin’s work, but sadly such was the demand they rescinded the giveaway.

      Love the idea of plastic fish, and as we currently have no fish stocks in our tank, may give it a go ourselves.

    11. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Ian,
      Oh I’m sorry you didn’t get the BBC poster – we did manage to get a copy, and not it stand proudly in our hall. Even though it must have been up for the best part of a year every week one of us still ends up sitting in front of it exploring one branch or the other!

    12. sunnyvale422

      What a gorgeous craft! We believe in evolution (rare thing here in US), and I am very interested in good evolution books for kids. I will definitely add this one to my list.

    13. Zoe @ Playing by the book

      Hi Sunnyvale422, Thanks for your kind words. Yes, it’s a really lovely book on the topic – worth looking out for. I was aware when I posted this review that about half my readership might not share my beliefs on this topic and wondered how that would pan out. Views on evolution are one of the big cultural divides I think between the UK and US – I don’t think I’ve ever met someone here in the UK who believes in creationism.

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