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'Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale': One of the best picture books ever

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Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

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“Poor Doreen (A Fishy Tale)” by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger is a charming and humorous picture book that just begs to be read aloud.

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There are two (perhaps three) simultaneous stories going on in this clever story.

There is the narrator who tells the story of the fish, Doreen (an extremely rare Southern Belle Ample Roundy Fish whose full name is Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts), who is on her way to visit her second cousin twice removed, who just had 157 babies. The narrator explains that Doreen is being stalked by both a fisherman and a great blue heron.

And poor ignorant, naive Doreen tells her story through dialogue. She is having the adventure of her life -- not realizing that her life is in extreme danger.

And lastly, there are the narrator comments, in second person -- as if talking to Doreen -- explaining that she’s not lucky at all. It sounds a bit confusing. Don’t worry. It’s not.

So when she bites on the fisherman’s hook, thinking it’s a dragonfly, and she’s flying through the air, she says, “Whee!” and “What a REMARKABLE swimmer I am! I’ll be with my cousin in no time!”

And the narrator replies, “Oh dear, Doreen. No. You’re not.”

Doreen’s tale twists and turns as much as a fish swimming through rapids. And as she is flying off in the mouth of the great blue heron (doomed, for sure, right?), Doreen manages to cleverly escape.

Is Doreen really clever? Or is she just incredibly lucky? That’s something the readers will be arguing about and discussing for a while.

The illustrations are also wonderfully clever and just right for the story. Alexandra Boiger chose blues and yellows and greens for most of the art, which serve to make the bright red of the fisherman’s boat and Doreen’s scarf and umbrella pop out.

The watercolors, combined with colored pencil and pencil, evoke the watery environment, the blue sky and the characters. The crimson color of Doreen’s scarf and umbrella (and the fisherman’s rowboat) perfectly contrast with the other colors. Boiger’s brush strokes are masterful at defining Doreen’s expressions as well as the expressions on the faces of the others, including other fish and the fisherman.

Boiger shared, “When I read the manuscript for the very first time I immediately fell in love with her character. I kept on thinking: Life is like a stroll in the park for her, which made me think of a lady somewhere in the English countryside walking through the grass. And there I saw the scarf and umbrella already in my mind. I also wanted to give her as much personality as possible, to really capture her psychological mindset, and to set her apart from all the other fish in her world.”

Boiger was kind enough to share some of the sketches and paintings she created while working on the book. The final result shows her careful planning and talented painting.

Yes, poor Doreen wears a bright red scarf on her head and carries a bright red umbrella. For Doreen is not just any fish, she’s a Southern Belle Ample Roundy Fish named Miss Doreen Randolph-Potts. She’s special, indeed.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Schwartz & Wade Books for review purposes.

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