The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

The Rainbow Fish (1992)
Written and Illustrated by Marcus Pfister
Translated to English by J. Alison James

I know that The Rainbow Fish is a best seller and is considered a good children’s book by many people, but it is the first children’s book that I have read that I can honestly say that I hate. I went into reading The Rainbow Fish expecting nothing more than a nice little story about a fish, and got a terrible story of exactly how friendships should not be formed. Rainbow Fish, the character, is a stuck up and self centered little fish who believes himself to be better than the other fish because of his special shiny scales. However the other fish are also terrible little characters because they only like Rainbow Fish for his scales. As the story goes along Rainbow Fish decides he wants to have friends and then literally goes about buying his friends by giving away his shiny scales. I was honestly appalled at the message that this book is giving children. Buying friends is not what I would consider a good moral moment for children’s literature. I assume that the author must have been going for a “sharing is good’ message, but he failed miserably at portraying that message in this book.

The only decent thing about this story is the illustrations. Though the book is not filled with amazing works of art or anything, the pictures are both appealing and fun. I think the best part of The Rainbow Fish is the unique artwork in the fact that Rainbow Fish’s shiny scales are like actual shiny pieces of foil. The glimmering effect that the scales create is intriguing to children and may capture their attention where the story most likely will fail to.

Not only is the message clearly one that I dislike, but the delivery was not well done in my opinion either. I found that the story seemed to drag on without creating much interest at all within the pages. The age level that this book would most interest would be the early childhood range, who will adore the shiny pictures. However this book does not have a very high readability and may feel like a chore to read aloud in many cases. From the preschool that I work in I know that there are several very short, simple, concept style stories in the board book variety that involve the character of Rainbow Fish complete with his fun shiny scales. I strongly believe that these are a much better option for children that the actual story they are based on.

Content- F
Illustrations- B
Readability- D

2 thoughts on “The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

  1. Wow, bring on the hate lady. I can see all of your points with the book, however I have one question. Where do you fall on the idea of The Rainbow Fish being just another version of The Giving Tree, a book I know you love? I can see the similarities, but I wonder where you fall on the correlations between these two titles.

    • Hi Bill. I actually see very little similarities between the books. The Giving Tree feels like more of a parent and child relationship where one sacrifices and gives to the other out of love with no motive for getting anything in return. The Giving Tree shows the tree giving the boy whatever he needs and feeling happiness simply because she loves him and wants him to have what he needs. The Rainbow Fish is about a very selfish little character. He doesn’t give away his shining scales to people he cares about that are in need of them, he uses them as a bartering device to literally buy some friends who he didn’t even like to begin with. This story is not about love or friendship at all.

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