Fritz's Fish

Geraldine Elschner, Author, Daniela Bunge, Illustrator, Kathryn Bishop, Translator , illus. by Daniela Bunge, trans. from the German by Kathryn Bishop. Penguin/Minedition $14.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-698-40028-3

German artist Bunge makes a stunning children's book debut, bringing a fresh beauty and grace to a familiar story of a boy and the pet he desires but must return to freedom. Fritz's yearnings for a pet fish come true one remarkable day, when a storm-swollen river floods his town, and he rescues a large fish. Fritz promptly deposits "Fresh" ("I just had to name him that," the boy narrator inserts as an aside) in the family's bathtub, but despite his dutiful caretaking, the fish fails to thrive, and the boy sadly realizes what he must do. "When I let him go, he sprang high in a big arc and then back into his river.... Then he disappeared in the river forever." Working with a palette of subdued blues, grays and browns—the visual equivalent of Elschner's restrained yet poetic prose—Bunge subtly mixes the real and magical throughout the book. Telling, precisely inked details depict the landscapes of Fritz's life, while Fresh is given expressive human features, reminiscent of old-fashioned fairy tale illustrations. But Bunge's real triumph is Fritz himself. Even though the boy spends most of the story in emotional tumult (his mother ultimately rewards his selflessness with a real pet fish), he's never a sad sack; his inquisitive eyes, wiry body and tousled reddish hair mark him as a sturdy fellow who won't be down for long. Ages 4-up. (Oct.)

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