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Teaching your children to love reading with ‘Pout-Pout Fish’ series


More and more research shows the secret of a new born or toddler’s success lies in reading. A recent article by Megan Cox Gurdon in The Wall Street Journal, the newspaper’s weekly writer of “Children’s Books,” underlined the importance of reading to children — especially in place of plopping them in front of a screen.

“Reading to children removes the negative of extra screen time while adding a terrific positive in the form of skill-and brain-building effects,” she wrote.

She also cited research that the sound of the reader’s voice, the protective warmth while cuddled with an adult reader and non-moving pictures add to the experience of reading to children.

An additional bonus is that when children who were read to at a young age grow up, they will likely become avid readers.

Children are also great mimics and if they see a parent on the phone, a laptop or an iPad, guess what they will want to do.

Read and your children will read too.

Many remember the fabulous Dr. Seuss books being read to them and then reading them to their own children.

That early reading helps develop your ability to recognize sounds and later see how written word relates to spoken word. You also develop a vocabulary and learn the meaning of words. Thank you Richard Scarry.

Grand Ledge author Deborah Diesen, the writer behind the acclaimed “Pout-Pout Fish” books, has been writing picture books since 2008 that accomplish all these things.

Her books feature an undersea creature who confronts sometimes difficult situations, such as the first day of school, fear of the dark or the inability to sleep.

The stories are told in a rhyming scheme that reinforces certain sounds and are accompanied by the colorful artwork of illustrator Dan Hanna.

“At the time of the first book neither of us could’ve predicted the series’ success,” Diesen said in a phone interview.

In the beginning, the author and the illustrator had not met, which is not unusual in the publishing business. However, 10 years later, Diesen and Hanna are awaiting their eighth Pout-Pout Fish book, which comes out early this summer.

Diesen does not shy away from contemporary and complex issues in her picture books. She just doesn’t hit little children over the head with them.

In her forthcoming book, “The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean,” Pout-Pout rallies the “little guppies” to help clean up the ocean.

“It was fun and interesting to write,” Diesen said, “But it’s not an issue book. The fish learn about a problem and work together to solve it.”

Working together is a theme that transcends most of Diesen’s books. She attributes her attention to community building to her time as a librarian for the Allen Neighborhood Center.

“I really want to reach people and to inspire them,” she said.

Diesen said she is currently in the last stages of finishing a children’s picture book with illustrator Magdalena Mora called “Equality’s Call” on the history of voting rights in this country.

“It’s hard to take a complex subject and make sense of it without being comprehensive,” she said. “I hope it will resonate.

I didn’t want to focus on people, but rather the issue.”

The book will be published in 2020, the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote.

Diesen said another difficult book to write was “The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully- Bully Shark.”

“It’s a complex issue and challenging story to write,” she said.

Despite the success of the Pout-Pout Fish series, making the New York Times Best Seller List and selling more than a million books, Diesen is humble about her success.

“By having success in my mid-to-later life, I don’t fool myself. The books have done well, but it was the luck of the draw,” she said.

“My best luck was getting paired with Dan. The book’s cover was so engaging it gave us a bump of awareness and ended up being placed ‘front-facing’ on bookstore’s shelves,” Diesen said.

“Getting a book published is luck and persistence — mostly luck,” she said.

In addition to the Pout-Pout Fish series there have been numerous offshoots. There's plush Pout-Pout Fish toys and even Pout- Pout Fish fabric. She has also written several books for Sleeping Bear Press.

“I still enjoy meeting with readers and connecting with them,” Diesen said. “I have had some very moving moments with my readers and that’s when the book becomes a shared creative experience.”

The Pout-Pout Fish book series is available at Schuler Books, Barnes & Noble and local libraries.


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