Heidi McKinnon is the author and illustrator of many wonderfully offbeat picture books, including I Just Ate my Friend, It’s A Long Way to the Shop and the adorable Floof. Heidi has an enviable knack for taking highly relatable stories about childhood experiences, like friendship or filling the hours of a long day, but telling these from the perspective of unusual and engaging narrators. In this case, we meet two deep sea fish amongst the seaweed and shells. They’re treading water (literally and figuratively) because where they live NOTHING EVER HAPPENS.
In fact the first line of the book is ‘Nothing ever happens’. This kicks off a dialogue between an orange fish (perhaps a parrotfish?) and a bright yellow pufferfish. ‘Yes, this place is always the same,’ says Fish 2. This is all kinds of clever, considering that every how-to-write class tells you to start your story with a sizzling, action packed opening! McKinnon plays with this rule by seemingly doing the opposite, yet simultaneously foreshadowing the fact something is, quite obviously, going to happen.
The two fish paddle around lamenting the lack of variety in their surroundings. ‘Same old rock’. ‘Same old starfish.’ They long for something AMAZING to happen. And then – it does! But not in quite they way they were hoping. As they make a hasty escape from near disaster, they revisit that same old rock and that same old starfish with a fresh perspective. ‘I hope nothing ever happens again,’ says Fish 1.
This narrative explores themes of gratitude and appreciation of one’s environment, but with the lightest touch, which is so refreshing. It also couples that most common of childhood refrains – ‘I’m bored’ – with the idea of fish having very short memories. It reminds young readers that everything around them can be amazing but, even on the days when things are quiet, it might help to remember the amazing things that happened on other days rather than jumping directly to the nothing EVER happens perspective.
Importantly, much of the humour comes from the reader being aware that something ‘amazing’ is about to happen long before the fish know it. This is a terrific introduction to visual literacy and the unique interplay of words and image to make a complete story that is the charm of a brilliant picture book.