Monday, June 27, 2016

Papa’s Mechanical Fish  
By Candace Fleming
Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
Published: 2013

Awards: NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2014; SLJ Best Children’s Books 2013-Picture Books

Papa’s Mechanical Fish is loosely based on a true event that happened in Lake Michigan in 1851. Author Candace Fleming takes the true story of an eccentric inventor who is credited for inventing the first submarine prototype and turns it into a delightfully funny story that students will enjoy and want to emulate in their writing.

I would use Papa’s Mechanical Fish in writing workshop for upper elementary students who are ready to break from the traditional narrative story written paragraph after paragraph after paragraph. 

Papa’s Mechanical Fish is told in first person by one of the inventor’s daughters. The author then proceeds to carry the majority of the action of the story in humorous dialogue that the inventor’s four children have about each their father’s latest unconventional inventions. Because the father enthusiastically tackles quirky invention after quirky invention, this style of dialogue by the children becomes repetitive—but not tiring. Fleming's writing is clever, funny, fast-paced, and keeps the reader turning the pages. To describe the sounds of Papa's workshop-onomatopoeia abounds—and students always love onomatopoeia!

Because it is loosely based on a true story, the book can be considered a historical fiction. Interesting debate could ensue in reading workshop as to why or why not this could be a historical fiction.  

**Please note—Boris Kulikov’s whimsical and comical illustrations are  very entertaining  and add depth and fun to the playfulness of the text.

Book Talk
Readers meet a young girl who proudly tells about her father’s inventions, the inventions humorous failings and his can-do, will-do, never-give-up spirit!

She tells of the collapsible coat hangers, edible socks and steam-powered roller skates—and  their comical demises!

The daughter then relates the events of one summer when on a family outing to go fishing—her father gets the idea of building a ‘underwater vessel’ or as he called it a ‘mechanical fish’.

He builds his first model of the mechanical fish-which has some laughable issues and doesn’t quite work; builds the next model improving on the mistakes-but it has some laughable issues and doesn’t quite work, AND he builds his next TWO models—with the fourth one finally working!

Each time, the family enthusiastically supports the father’s endeavors.

Some favorite lines:
‘So Papa twiddles his tools and pulls his hair. He racks his brain, sighs, and stares until one day he throws down his screwdriver. “Enough thinking!” he cries. “Who wants to go fishing?”
“I do!’” I hollar.
“Me, too,” says my brother, Cyril.
“Don’t forget me,” adds our sister, Mary.
“My daa-daa!” squeals the baby, Wilhelmina.
“Woof!” barks our bulldog, Rex.
“I”m so glad I brought along these poles.” says Mama.’

The family is thrilled with the final product with all six family members—and the family dog—going for an underwater ride in “Papa’s Mechanical Fish’.

Some more favorite lines:
‘The Whitefish IV is big enough for seven people to sit in….It has as steam boiler to run the engine and a battery to run the headlights….Along its length are a dozen portholes.
Papa grins “Who wants to go for a ride?”
“I do!” I whoop.
“Me, too!” say Cyril.
“Don’t forget me!” adds Mary.
“Go bye-bye!” squeals the baby.
“Woof!” barks Rex.
“I’m so glad that I brought along lunch.” says Mama.

The family enjoys the ride, celebrates with a lovely picnic...and then Papa gets another idea....about flying!

In the back of the book, the author adds the factual information about Lodner Phillips, the inventor on which this story is based. She also adds the sources she used to write the story-which would be a good lesson for students for citing sources and why that is important.

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Reading Workshop Strategies: Predicting, Inferring, Questioning, Analyzing, Synthesizing
Writing Workshop Genre and Strategies:  Narrative Writing, Personal Narrative, Memoir, Grammar (dialogue), Elaboration-Onomatopoeia, Boy Hook

Candace Fleming’s website:

Boris Kulikov’s website:

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