I’d like to know how many fish Mies van Hout stared at for inspiration when she was working on Happy. Actually, I’d like to know what kind of fish are swimming around in her fish tank, because if they are anything like the little guys pictured in her perfectly wonderful picture book, I want a few of my own. Never before have I had the urge to snuggle with a fish, but I tell you, when you lay eyes on van Hout’s “delighted” fish, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The premise of this book is an oldie, with a twist. It’s a fishy variation on the type of book that aims to teach little ones what emotions look like. By focusing on fish, the author ends up creating something just as charming, surprising, and funny as one of my favourite emotion picture books, Elffers and Freymann’s How Are You Peeling?: Foods with Moods.
Every two-page spread shows a new fish, with a new feeling, such as delighted, sure, astonished, and angry. The fish are drawn on black backgrounds and they look very much like chalk drawings, free and textured, scribbly and soft. They pop right off the page with brilliant colours and details, and the emotion words are written cleverly too, conveying the feeling through their colour and font style. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that a book this simple could inspire so many laughs. I just know that it is going to crack kids up (especially the angry fish, I can hear the kindergarteners laughing already).
Sure to be loads of fun anyplace, anytime. Teachers, if you can’t come up with a stellar art lesson using this book as a launching point, find the astonished fish so you can picture the look on my face.
Happy will make you happy, and it’s translated from the Dutch by Lemniscaat, USA.