cover image Ugly Fish

Ugly Fish

Kara LaReau, , illus. by Scott Magoon. . Harcourt, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-205082-5

With his murky green skin and fierce underbite, Ugly Fish rules the aquarium. "He liked gliding in... and out... of his driftwood tunnel. He liked eating his special briny flakes." But he hates to share. Each time a potential friend is introduced, he snarls, "There's only room for one fish in this tank—me !" He devours all interlopers, including cute yellow Teensy Fish and the cuddly duo of Stripey and Spotty Fish. In post-meal images, readers witness Ugly's pleased expression and see the victim's fin dangling from his toothy jaw; when he's lonely, he does express mild remorse ("Chasing those fish was fun. If only I hadn't eaten them"). Shortly thereafter, dark-blue Shiny Fish—so enormous he doesn't fit on the page, and with sinister dark circles under his narrow eyes—joins Ugly in the tank. Ugly acts as though he has learned his lesson, and tries to welcome the hulking newcomer. But predator becomes prey, and Shiny gets "a nice new home... [burp ] all to himself." Magoon pictures the action in close-up, except for a wordless closing image of solitary Shiny, content in the rectangular tank. In this conclusion, Magoon implies the tiny territory for which the fish compete, and not least, the human hand in the fishy murders. LaReau's text, meanwhile, describes a bully's grim comeuppance. But however satisfying the vigilante justice, only a bigger bully trumps a petty tyrant. This cautionary tale shows that violence begets violence, but never suggests an alternative to the big-fish-eat-little-fish cycle. Ages 3-7. (June)