Candace Fleming
Historical Picture Books
Papa's Mechanical Fish
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, August 2013
978-0374399085
ages 4 to 8
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Papa's Mechanical Fish
written by Candace Fleming
illustrated by Boris Kolikov

Clink! Clankety-bang! Thump-whirr! That's the sound of Papa at work. Although he is an inventor, he has never made anything that works perfectly, and that's because he hasn't yet found a truly fantastic idea. But when he takes his family fishing on Lake Michigan, his daughter Virena asks, “Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?”—and Papa is off to his workshop. With a lot of persistence and a little bit of help, Papa—who is based on the real-life inventor Lodner Phillips—creates a submarine that can take his family for a trip to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Read the Reviews
“This picture book is a fictional account based on events in the life of eccentric inventor Lodner Phillips as told from the perspective of his daughter, Virena. Papa theorizes and tinkers but never succeeds. Finally, while the family is dropping lines from a pier into Lake Michigan, his daughter asks, “have you ever wondered what it's like to be a fish?” Immediately the man dashes back to his workshop and soon produces one of the world's earliest submarines, the Whitefish. Children will delight in the way Virena is the catalyst for her father's successive improvements to his primitive vessel as she continues to ask questions: about how fish move through water, stay dry, and know where they are going. Kulikov's luminous, playful, detailed illustrations on full-bleed spreads incorporate a variety of perspectives, including close-up views of fish and of Papa underwater and cutaway diagrams of his creations. An afterword is included. The exuberant and inquisitive tone of this book is sure to entertain curious children.”

“There’s a rich history of batty inventor/tinkerer dads in children’s books, and the girl narrator’s father in this book could hang with the best of them. That he’s based on a real mid-nineteenth-century person makes it all the better. Whether Papa’s spectacular failures have been great ideas (steam-powered roller skates) or not-so-great (edible socks), ‘not once has Papa invented anything that works perfectly.’ But inspiration flashes when the family is out fishing in the lake—a mechanical fish. Iteration after iteration of his rudimentary submarine ends in lighthearted disaster, each time the object growing more complex and preposterous until he’s finally come up with a vessel just crazy enough to work. Fleming festoons her glib narrative with read-aloud treats of ‘Clacketa-claketa-clacketa!’ and ‘Clink! Clankety-bang! Thump-whirr!’ Meanwhile, Kulikov dishes out some tall-tale-worthy artwork and cut-out designs somewhere between Leonardo da Vinci and Rube Goldberg. A closing note talks about Fleming’s inspiration, the inventor Lodner Phillips, who really did take his family for an underwater spin in Lake Michigan in 1851.”

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